- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 28, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Congress once again is about to expand the ability of federal bureaucrats to censor the Internet. Earlier this month, the House Judiciary Committee began marking up the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill designed to force domain registrars and search engines such as Google to erase any mention of websites the attorney general declares “rogue.”

Hollywood, one of the biggest campaign backers of judiciary committee members, has been pushing the legislation to make what it calls “foreign infringing websites” disappear. Tinseltown is desperate to pin the blame for its dismal performance on pirates. This year, fewer movie tickets were sold than at any point since 1996. Studio executives would have us believe the $500 billion drop in domestic box-office receipts has nothing to do with what’s playing at the theater or interest in legitimate alternatives to the cinema.

The top 10 flicks for 2011 consisted of eight sequels and remakes plus a pair of movies based on comic books. Gucci-wearing lobbyists have convinced their favorite members of Congress that instead of forking over $8 to view these retreads on the silver screen, the public has been downloading first-run films off the Internet in droves to watch on their tiny computer monitors. The Motion Picture Association of America says such activity costs the major studios billions of dollars a year and more legislation is needed to restore the industry.

Of course, it’s already illegal to use a camcorder or other device to record a movie in a theater, and such laws are often taken to absurd extremes. In 2007, a 19-year-old girl was arrested at the Ballston Common mall in Arlington for recording 20 seconds’ worth of the film “Transformers” that she intended to share with her brother. Congress made it a felony to copy “any part” of a motion picture, with those convicted facing up to three years in jail and a $250,000 fine.

Upping the ante by giving the administration expedited ability to shut down websites at the request of major campaign contributors is going too far. If the motion-picture industry spent less time in Washington and more time coming up with original ideas, its product might be more appealing to consumers, who have more entertainment options at their disposal than ever.

Video-game maker Activision bragged earlier this month that sales of the latest edition of Call of Duty reached $1 billion within 16 days, crushing this year’s top film and beating 2009’s blockbuster “Avatar.” The public spent a total of $18.6 billion feeding their PlayStations and Xboxes last year - $8 billion more than went to movie studios. That proves there’s plenty of money to be made as long as the content is of high quality.

Congress shouldn’t enact draconian statutes that threaten the First Amendment simply to provide cover for an industry in need of a major injection of newfound creativity.

The Washington Times

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