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Tech firms fight SOPA by talking job creation

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The latest attack on the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) shows the tech industry is getting smarter and more tactical in its fight against the legislation that aims to prevent piracy by shutting down web sites and forcing Internet service providers (ISPs) and content hosting companies to remove content if there’s even an allegation of infringement. Key tech industry groups are now aligning their cause with an issue that’s supposedly near and dear to every Congressperson’s heart: Job creation.

On Wednesday, a group of technology groups including the Consumer Electronics Association, the National Venture Capital Association, the Computer & Communications Industry Association and others sent a letter to the Texas Congressman who wrote the bill, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, and Michigan Congressman John Conyers, who serves as a House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member. The letter points out the importance of the Internet to the worldwide economy and, perhaps most importantly, job creation in the United States.

In the current political climate — heading into an election year when the nation’s unemployment rate has been hovering around nine percent for months — “jobs” is the magic word. The letter puts that concept at front and center, starting in the very first paragraphs, which read in part:

“A recent study by McKinsey underscores the importance of the Internet to the economy. The McKinsey study found that the Internet contributes to 3.4% of GDP in a set of 13 developed countries, and has accounted for 21% of economic growth in these countries in the past five years.

It is with this context in mind that we write to ask that Congress proceed deliberately with legislation aimed at the piracy of digital content. We agree with the need to address this problem, for when creators of new products and services see their work stolen, that hurts the economy.”

The industry groups also took a somewhat gentle tone, acknowledging the need for reforms but urging Congress to slow down and be more careful in moving forward with any legislation.

Focusing on jobs is certainly smart from a public PR standpoint. But the question now is: Will it really work in persuading an entrenched and wealthy group of companies and politicians that are familiar with their concerns? In hearings last month, the House Judiciary Committee seemed to doubt the tech industry’s commitment to stopping piracy, and seemed almost determined to tune out any discussion about the potentially negative impacts of SOPA. Perhaps “jobs” will be the secret code that gives the tech industry real respect from Washington.

If not, it looks like the House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is planning to introduce an alternative online piracy bill as soon as next Wednesday, according to The Hill. More on how this discussion draft is evolving can be found here. Maybe the tech industry can save the web after all.

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