China as Poster Boy for IP Protection?

In the middle of one of the most contentious debates in Congress about intellectual property in recent memory, the MPAA appears to have finally found an analogy that it believes will persuade skeptics to support slash-and-burn piracy bills now before Congress: Google in China.

On Thursday, Variety published an interview with MPAA chairman Chris Dodd, in which the former senator directly (and apparently favorably) compared the Internet filtering contemplated in two controversial U.S. anti-piracy bills to Chinese Internet censorship. Singling out Google's opposition to the bills, Dodd said, "When the Chinese told Google that they had to block sites or they couldn't do [business] in their country, they managed to figure out how to block sites." Really?

I want to give Dodd the benefit of the doubt, but it is hard to find a benign headline for his remarks. How about "MPAA to Google: 'You did it for China; now do it for Hollywood'"? Or "MPAA to Congress: 'If it's good enough for China, it should be good enough for the United States'"? This awkward moment of candor helps reveal the two bills -- PROTECT IP in the Senate and SOPA in the House -- for what they are. Far from being narrow efforts to take action against the worst of the worst infringers, they are an attempt to dramatically change U.S. Internet policy from a system that punishes illegal actors but favors openness, innovation, and free expression to a closed system that prefers distributed methods of control in the service of powerful interests. Such a shift would be devastating to the U.S. Internet industry and to free expression. Dodd seems to have forgotten the last chapter in the Google in China saga. Google eventually pulled out of China because of its filtering and blocking mandates and now redirects some of traffic to the uncensored

Thankfully, a bipartisan group of senators and representatives have put another option on the table -- one that takes more careful aim at the real bad guys and adopts a follow-the-money approach to cutting off so-called "rogue" sites. There are a lot of new ideas in the bill that bear careful discussion, but one thing is clear: thoughtful legislators can find sensible ways to address piracy without following the lead of one of the world's most Internet-repressive countries.