- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said Wednesday that it would be a mistake for Congress to approve Hollywood-backed legislation meant to combat online piracy because it would be ineffective and could fundamentally alter the way the Internet works.

Companion bills before the House and Senate would allow copyright holders to go to court to compel credit card companies and online advertising companies, including Google, to cut off websites dedicated to distributing pirated material. Prosecutors would be able to get court orders forcing search engines to drop the sites.

The House’s Stop Online Piracy Act the Senate’s Protect IP Act are backed by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which estimates the cost of online piracy at $135 million a year. Internet giants Google, Yahoo, Facebook have come out against the legislation.

In response to a question after speaking Wednesday at the University of Minnesota, Schmidt said it would be a mistake to adopt the bills’ approach to fighting piracy. “The problem with the two bills is that they go after all the wrong problems,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt said some provisions in the bills were technologically difficult, including giving copyright holders the right to delete links from the Internet and criminalizing the indexing of the content by search engines.

“There are a whole bunch of issues involved with breaking the Internet and the way it works,” he said.

Another big problem, he said, was that the bills won’t work. He said the criminal activity would immediately move to different websites and continue.

“The correct solution, which we’ve repeatedly said, is to follow the money,” Schmidt said. “Making it more explicitly illegal to make money from that type of content is what we recommend.”

Finally, Schmidt said they violated free speech rights protected in the First Amendment. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the author of the Senate bill, disputed that in a statement released by his office Wednesday afternoon.

“There is no First Amendment right to steal,” he said. “This (bill) will protect Americans’ intellectual property rights, which in turn boosts our economy and promotes American jobs.”

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has introduced a separate bill that would update current federal copyright law to make clear that streaming copyrighted material for commercial purposes can be prosecuted as a felony. A spokesman, Linden Zakula, said Klobuchar “hopes that Leahy and the House authors work to address the concerns about the larger bill.”

Schmidt spoke at the university’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The university is one of the biggest users of the Google’s free applications in higher education in the United States, with more than 90,000 Google email accounts.