Remember the day the Internet went dark? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce does.
The powerful business lobby, perhaps the biggest supporter of controversial legislation intended to stem online piracy, is at it again. The group is up with a billboard advertisement in Manhattan's Times Square and an online video series urging Congress to "protect America's IP rights."
The August before a presidential election is not usually viewed as a prime time to kick off an advocacy campaign, but a soft launch may be the best choice for Chamber lobbyists bent on backing one of the more controversial proposals this Congress has tackled.
The Chamber says it is not pushing any particular bill and characterizes the campaign as a chance to raise awareness and reshape public opinion after efforts to pass legislation imploded last winter.
"This is an awareness campaign about the prevalence and danger of counterfeit goods - not a legislative push," said Trinh Nguyen, spokeswoman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global IP Center. "This campaign is not political."
The proposals - the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate - had the backing of influential Members of Congress in both parties, as well as the well-financed and politically generous entertainment industry.
But Internet companies saw the bills, which would allow the government to bring legal action against copyright infringers, as a form of censorship. It was the first time lawmakers had made a serious attempt to police the Internet - and the tech firms viewed the effort as a fundamental threat to their livelihoods.
For months, lobbyists for Google and other Internet giants made their case to Congress. But Washington, D.C., didn't blink until popular websites such as Wikipedia, Reddit, Craigslist and thousands of others went dark for a day in protest.
This time, the Chamber is de-emphasizing the regulatory impact on the Internet and Hollywood's interests while playing up the effects of counterfeiting on the pharmaceutical industry and broad consumer goods markets.
The Times Square billboard, a video advertisement that will remain at the intersection of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue through the end of September, promotes the group's website, DangerousFakes.com, which asks viewers to contact their Member of Congress.
Technology industry lobbyists were not surprised to see the Chamber pushing tighter online piracy restrictions. Indeed, bills with very similar language have been introduced multiple times under different names since 2010.
"The more that the content industry can just bang the drum that this is a problem, the better their odds," one industry lobbyist said. "If you can get something moving with the bill, anything is possible."
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