Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt on Wednesday proclaimed the company's strong opposition to new legislation that calls for shutting down access to file-sharing websites that offer allegedly copyrighted material. The new law proposes that the government blacklist these sites, take them offline, and demand that search providers such as Google delist them from their search indexes.
Schmidt argued that laws such as these set a very “disastrous precedent” for destroying free speech all over the world.
"If there is a law that requires DNSs [domain name systems] to do X, and it's passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president of the United States and we disagree with it, then we would still fight it," Schmidt told reporters at a London conference. "If it's a request, the answer is we wouldn't do it. If it's a discussion, we wouldn't do it."
His comments follow a high profile Senate Judiciary Committee hearing where Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the PROTECT IP Act. This proposed bill would allow the attorney general to go to a judge to get a court order which would enable the Justice Department to shut down a domain name of an infringing site. The bill is a retooled version of an earlier bill proposed by Leahy introduced last year called COICA. The new bill includes a new provision that applies to search engines, which is why Google's top executive is speaking out about it.
The bill would also force Google to cut off any advertising on an accused site or sponsored links. Schmidt didn't mince words on Monday, comparing provision in the bill to practices used by the Chinese government to suppress free speech - something Google has fought against in the past. Schmidt said that the idea of blocking domain names is much like what China does to keep users off sites it deems inappropriate.
"I would be very, very careful if I were a government about arbitrarily [implementing] simple solutions to complex problems," Schmidt said.
"So, 'let's whack off the DNS.' OK, that seems like an appealing solution but it sets a very bad precedent,” Schmidt said, “because now another country will say 'I don't like free speech so I'll whack off all those DNSs.' That country would be China.” Naturally Schmidt’s comments have riled the entertainment industry. The Recording Industry Association of America said his stance contradicts a "more compromising tone" that Google General Counsel Kent Walker had with lawmakers at a hearing last month.
“This is baffling,” an RIAA spokesman told Politico. “As a legitimate company, Google has a responsibility to not benefit from criminal activity.”
“Is Eric Schmidt really suggesting that if Congress passes a law and President Obama signs it, Google wouldn’t follow it? As an American company respected around the world, it’s unfortunate that, at least according to its executive chairman’s comments, Google seems to think it’s above America’s laws,” said Michael O’Leary, an executive vice president for MPAA. "And the notion that China would use a bipartisan, narrowly tailored bill as a pretext for censorship is laughable, as Google knows, China does what China does."
A Google representative was a bit more diplomatic in its response to Politico, saying that it is working with lawmakers to crack down on piracy while protecting free speech.
“Free expression is an issue we care deeply about and we continue to work with Congress to make sure the PROTECT IP Act will target sites dedicated to piracy while protecting free expression and legitimate sites,” the representative said.