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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 20, 2018

Internet Association CEO: MPAA’s Zuckerberg letter was ‘shameless rent-seeking,’ ‘crony politics’

By Ted Johnson | May 16, 2018

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - WASHINGTON -- The head of the trade association representing major internet companies like Google, Amazon, and Netflix slammed the MPAA for a letter that its CEO sent to Capitol Hill lawmakers as Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified last month.

In his letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Oregon), Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, wrote that “a regulatory debate should not be driven by the proliferation of anti-internet lobbying that has hit Washington in recent months from companies and industries looking to improve their competitive odds through regulation.”

The letter continues, “This is neither in the best interest of consumers nor politically popular with the millions of Americans who use and trust internet platforms. Look no further than the gratuitous letter Motion Picture Association of America, Inc. chairman & CEO Charles Rivkin submitted to the Energy and Commerce Committee during your recent Zuckerberg hearing. The hearing had nothing to do with the Motion Picture industry, but Mr. Rivkin demonstrated shameless rent-seeking by calling for regulation on internet companies simply in an effort to protect his clients’ business interest.”

During Zuckerberg’s visit to Capitol Hill, Rivkin wrote to lawmakers that “the moment has come for a national dialogue about restoring accountability on the internet. Whether through regulation, recalibration of safe harbors, or the exercise of greater responsibility by online platforms, something must change.” At the end of Zuckerberg’s appearance before a joint Senate committee, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the chairman of the Commerce Committee, entered Rivkin’s letter into the record.

In his letter, Beckerman says cautions against rushing through regulation, and says that such a debate “should not be driven by the proliferation of anti-internet lobbying that has hit Washington in recent months from companies and industries looking to improve their competitive odds” through new legislation. He was responding to an op-ed that Walden wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle, calling on Silicon Valley CEOs to testify before Congress. Beckerman said that he would be “happy” to testify on behalf of the IA’s member companies, which also include Facebook.

Beckerman wrote that “this blatant display of crony politics is not unique to the big Hollywood studios, but rather emblematic of a broader anti-consumer lobbying campaign. Many other pre-internet industries -- telcos, legacy tech firms, hotels, and others -- are looking to defend old business models by regulating a rising competitor to the clear detriment of consumers.”

Internet companies and studios have found themselves at odds on a number of policy fronts in D.C. Most recently, they have been pressing U.S. trade officials during negotiations for a revised North American Free Trade Agreement. The IA wants a revised pact to include “safe harbor” provisions, akin to those in current U.S. copyright law, which shield internet companies from liability in the hosting of third-party content.

The MPAA and other content groups believe that including those provisions will only worsen the problem of online piracy, as it puts the onus on copyright holders to identify infringement.

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