Anti-SOPA Internet Society under fire for hiring MPAA executive

After warning Web blacklists would end the "viability of the Internet," the Internet Society hires the Hollywood figure who defends them and accuses critics of spreading "misinformation."

The Internet Society is hardly a fan of the Stop Online Piracy Act or the Protect IP Act. The venerable non-profit, which acts as the umbrella organization for the Internet's key standards bodies, bluntly warns that the pair of copyright laws would end the "viability of the Internet."

Which is why ISOC's decision this month to hire a senior executive from the Motion Picture Association of America -- a lawyer who has championed the wildly controversial legislation that would blacklist Web sites that supposedly violate copyright -- is raising eyebrows.

Paul Brigner defended Web blacklist legislation as an MPAA senior vice president. Why did the anti-SOPA Internet Society hire him?
Paul Brigner defended Web blacklist legislation as an MPAA senior vice president. Why did the anti-SOPA Internet Society hire him? MPAA

ISOC announced last week that it had hired Paul Brigner, the MPAA's senior vice president and chief technology policy officer, previously of Verizon's D.C. lobby office. Brigner now heads ISOC's North America efforts, a role that includes working with the U.S. Congress and federal agencies on Internet-related laws. (See Brigner's bare-bones Web site here.)

That announcement was particularly striking because it came mere days after the ISOC Board of Trustees adopted a resolution warning of the dangers of Protect IP, SOPA, and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), all of which the MPAA and its overseas associates have lobbied for strenuously.

At a State of the Net discussion in Washington, D.C., in January at which he represented the MPAA, Brigner said that while Internet engineers have raised some valid concerns about SOPA and PIPA, the public debate has been fueled by "misinformation and exaggeration about some of the things that the MPAA and others were trying to accomplish in this legislation."

"Maybe now is the time to take a look at either DNS filtering or other mechanisms that can be a technological impediment to accessing these rogue sites," Brigner added. "There needs to be some indication that when you try to go these rogue sites, you shouldn't be there."

Brigner's blog posts at the MPAA Web site have drawn derision from the reliably anti-SOPA forces at TechDirt. After Brigner argued last year that rogue Web sites can host malware, TechDirt responded by dubbing it "stupid," an "uninformed fear that folks like the MPAA play upon," and warned that the MPAA was inventing a "new holy terror brought down upon us by the likes of zombie bin Laden."

"It seems puzzling that ISOC would make this particular selection for such an important position, given Mr. Brigner's public condemnation of Net neutrality while at Verizon, and his own postings in strong support of Protect IP while at the MPAA," says Lauren Weinstein of People For Internet Responsibility, which has opposed SOPA and favors Net neutrality regulations.

In another post on the MPAA's blog last summer, Brigner wrote that not passing the legislation would cause the Internet to "decay into a lawless Wild West." A third pointed to an paper that, Brigner wrote, "debunks claims Protect IP will break the Internet."

That's not what the public decided, of course. Protect IP and SOPA were yanked from the House and Senate calendars after January's historic online protest -- which included Wikipedia going dark for a day, alerts appearing on the home page of Google.com and Amazon.com, and so on.

For its part, ISOC chief operating officer Walda Roseman sent CNET a statement downplaying the time Brigner spent at the MPAA:

We can assure you that the Internet Society remains committed to its positions on DNS blocking and draft legislation such as SOPA and PIPA. Our position is publicly well known and remains unchanged. We would not have made this appointment if we had not been certain that Paul is ready to fully support the principles and positions of the Internet Society. Paul is onboard and already working to drive those and other Internet Society positions forward. His knowledge of technology and his insights into the issues related to Internet content will be invaluable in this area.

We are aware of some concern and even criticism around this appointment stemming from Paul's short tenure at MPAA. Paul has a full body of work and a career marked by open communication and bridge building across disparate parties. We observed these skills in Paul first-hand during his short time at the MPAA, where he opened a constructive dialogue between the content and Internet communities.

Translation: Brigner is a hired gun, but now he's our hired gun. Pay no attention to what he was saying before; he's on our side. For now.

SOPA and Protect IP would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, Internet service providers, and other companies, forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site effectively vanish. A letter signed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, among others, warns that SOPA will "give the U.S. government the power to censor the Web using techniques similar to those used by China, Malaysia and Iran."

The MPAA, which blasted the anti-SOPA blackouts as mere "stunts," and its allies haven't given up lobbying for similar legislation. "We must take action to stop" online piracy and counterfeiting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said after the protests , and MPAA chief Chris Dodd warned at the time: "As a consequence of failing to act, there will continue to be a safe haven for foreign thieves."

 

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