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Netflix creates pro-SOPA super-PAC?

Published time: April 09, 2012 16:36
Edited time: May 26, 2012 19:10
A screen grab shows the access to Netflix online, as displayed on a television screen (Reuters/Mike Blake)

A screen grab shows the access to Netflix online, as displayed on a television screen (Reuters/Mike Blake)

As US lawmakers consider anti-piracy legislation, they may have found an ally in Netflix. The streaming content giant has created its own super PAC, raising claims that it will support anti-piracy measures in Washington to promote SOPA-like laws.


(UPDATE: Netflix says its PAC has nothing to do with SOPA – details here)

(UPDATE: Why Netflix PAC agenda NOT convincing)

Hollywood and record industry support didn’t help Congress get SOPA and PIPA to pass the House and Senate, but now they may have a new accomplice in their continuing fight to try and push for anti-piracy legislation.

The filing with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) made by Netflix was reported by Politico on April 5. The number one name in (legal) streaming video services in the US filed for the formation of its own political action committee, appropriately titled FLIXPAC.

The newly established agency may be able to endorse politicians by way of stuffing their pockets, which could influence even more congressmen to condone increasingly controversial bills considered in the House and Senate. Congressional records would seem to support this possibility, as they show that the lobbying expenses of Netflix rose from $20,000 in 2009 to $500,000 in 2011.

The most notorious of those bills – the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) – is thought to have found initial support with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who reportedly expressed solidarity with SOPA's ultimate goals in a letter to the Chamber of Commerce. However, once internet resistance to SOPA grew, Netflix hastily backtracked, insisting that the company has been "neutral" on the issue right from the start.

Following the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act and the PROTECT IP Act (or SOPA and PIPA, respectively), Congress has been drafting an array of options that, if passed, are being touted as the long-awaited solution to what lawmakers consider a dire problem in the States: online piracy. While the newest SOPA-substituting legislation have been authored already and ushered through Congress, the backing of streaming behemoth Netflix could ensure that the next attempt at censoring the Web sees US President Barack Obama signing it in no time.

Among the newest bills authored out of Washington is the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA. While proposed under the guise of legislation necessary to implement federal protection from foreign and domestic cyberattacks, if passed CISPA would also put in the hands of the government the power to monitor and interfere with practically any online interactions. Only last week, George W. Bush’s former special adviser on cybersecurity, Richard A. Clarke, also addressed the necessity for such laws and proposed that the Department of Homeland Security start moderating what goes in and out of the United States’ Internet “borders.”

The last time anti-piracy legislation came close to approval, massive Internet campaigns stopped SOPA and PIPA dead in their tracks, but only after opponents practically waged a war against the entertainment industry and supporters of the bills. Netflix, a long-time opponent of online piracy, if the rumors are indeed the case, will be able to endorse elected officials by way of big-time contributions, with the PAC now approved to hand out up to $5,000 per election.

At the dawn of the SOPA scandal, Netflix was among the entertainment industry titans to support the proposed bill, only to alter their stance as “neutral” amid massive public backlash. With other Internet services and service providers still throwing their weight behind the newest anti-piracy bills, however, Netflix is expected to follow suit, and maybe use more than just urging to influence lawmakers. As they become one of the biggest names in Hollywood, the pull Netflix has over politicians could be major in terms of seeing CISPA or other similar acts are signed.

While SOPA and PIPA saw support from both the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America, the stance taken by Netflix – in terms of what Washington has to offer  – is bound to be viewed as increasingly important as time goes by. Trade publication HIS Screen Digest released a study last week estimating that the 3.4 billion online viewings expected to occur by the end of 2012. They will outweigh 2.4 billion DVD and Blu-Ray disc views estimated for the same timeframe. Additionally, online streams and downloads in 2011 were clocked at only 1.4, which showcases the seriousness of how Netflix might be respected in both Washington and Hollywood in the coming months.

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