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Next to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s roaring lion, they’re like squeaking mice. But despite their obvious handicap, a group of Internet wizards intends to take on Hollywood in the political realm. Toward that end, the group has set up a political action committee — the Intellectual Property Action Committee or IPac — to champion less restrictive copyright protection rules for digital content. So far, the group has pulled in $7,000 in contributions, which got distributed in the recent election cycle to six candidates — one Senate hopeful, who lost, and five incumbent U.S. House members, all of whom won. The purpose of the political action committee is “to prove to politicians that there is another side to the piracy and file-sharing argument,” says Matthew Stoller, an independent political consultant and media blogger who is one of IPac’s founders. Stoller started the group with David Alpert, a product manager at Google Inc., and Ren Bucholz, who runs the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s grassroots activism network. Alpert got the idea for the PAC after watching more people getting involved in the presidential election and as blogs and the Internet became an integral part of political organizing. “In the recent cycle, people focused on partisan issues,” says Alpert. “Now they can devote energy to thinking of other issues beyond left versus right.” Content owners — particularly the motion picture and recording industries — have long fought copy-friendly technology and the people who use it. But ever since Napster, the one-time music-swapping sensation, debuted four years ago, the fighting hasn’t let up. The Motion Picture Association of America, for example, recently announced it would file lawsuits against people who illegally share movie files online. The move mirrors an aggressive campaign by the Recording Industry Association of America against individuals who swap music files over the Internet. The RIAA filed more than 1,000 suits against individual computer users in 2004. The motion picture and recording industries also have been pushing for legislation to further restrict peer-to-peer file sharing. Last year Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced the so-called Induce Act, which would make corporations liable for inducing children and others to commit copyright infringement. While the bill failed, it is expected to be reintroduced in the new Congress. “I think there’s a sense that the interests of technology companies and the public don’t get through in Congress because Hollywood is well organized and has a lot of connections while the tech industry isn’t,” says Mark Lemley, a Stanford Law professor and IP expert. “The digital civil liberties community is waking up to the problem. IPac is a great example of that.” IPac, which is backing politicians that support intellectual property laws that favor “fair use” access to copyrighted works, hopes its meager war chest will help counter the influence of movie studios and record labels. In the November election, IPac singled out Reps. Rick Boucher, D-Va.; Joe Barton, R-Texas; John Doolittle, R-Calif.; and Christopher Cox, R-Calif., in part for their 2003 sponsorship of the Digital Media Consumers’ Rights Act. The bill would have modified the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow consumers to break encryption technology for fair use access to copyrighted works. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Silicon Valley Democrat, also received funding for co-sponsoring the bill and for introducing legislation that would allow a work to go into the public domain if the copyright was not renewed after 50 years. The little bit of cash IPac contributed to these politicians is insignificant next to the $23.9 million contributed in 2004 by the motion picture, television and music industries. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, $4 million of that sum came from PACs. Then again, Hollywood’s sometime nemesis in the battle over digital rights — Silicon Valley — has its own deep pockets. In its breakdown of contributions by industry, the Center for Responsive Politics reports that the computer and Internet industries contributed $21.2 million in the 2004 election cycle, of which $3.9 million came from PACs. Still, one voice is missing. “All the legislation moving through Congress is slanted toward more [copyright] protection and more enforcement without any real benefit to consumers,” says Jason Schultz, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and an IPac contributor. “There’s a need for more of a public voice for the rest of us. In Washington, one of the big ways to get your voice heard is to have money.” Brenda Sandburg is a senior writer at The Recorder, where she covers developments in IP law.

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