Rep. Lamar Smith's One-Hit Blunder

November 30, 2011 10:50 am ET — Brian Powell

If it passes, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), introduced by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), would give the government new, dramatically far-reaching power to fight online piracy by blacklisting some websites and strong-arming domain name providers into "disappearing" other sites, effectively shutting them down. SOPA has been compared to China's infamous censorship project — the "Great Firewall" — and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) proclaimed that it would do "lasting damage" to the internet. But despite the mounting opposition to the bill, Smith is not wavering. Yesterday, he doubled down on his support of the bill by recording a public service announcement with Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) that touts the necessity of the bill and warns citizens not to download pirated music, movies and software.

Smith and Wasserman Schultz recorded the PSA during a tour of a recording studio — The Hit Factory in Miami — arranged by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Billboard reported on the PSA jam session Tuesday:

"Together we can stop online piracy - do it the right way and click to pay!"

The words were uttered in unison at a Miami recording studio booth by an unlikely duo: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic Congresswoman from South Florida and Lamar Smith, Republican Congressman from Texas. Both put party differences aside in their joint sponsorship of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), currently before Congress. As part of their work on the bill, Wasserman Schultz and Smith visited recording studio The Hit Factory in Miami to witness first-hand how a recording is made.

The RIAA is one of the bill's strongest proponents and also a large political contributor to Lamar Smith. Smith is tied with Republican Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) for the most donations from the RIAA for the 2012 election cycle, and Smith has received over $33,000 from the association since 2004. For the record, Smith has also received tens of thousands of dollars from the bill's other fervent supportersComcast ($52,000), the Motion Picture Association of America ($12,000) and GoDaddy.com ($11,000).

Wasserman Schultz, for her part, has received a mere $1500 from the RIAA, but has gotten significant contributions from Comcast (at least $30,000) and GoDaddy.com ($2000). Since Wasserman Schultz is the chair of the Democratic National Committee, it's also worth noting that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee have benefitted from RIAA donations as well ($3000 and $5750, respectively).

In contrast to the short list of supporters, Smith's bill is ardently opposed by nearly everyone else. The voices of SOPA's opposition are bi-partisan and global, ranging from Republican Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (CA) and GOP presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (TX) to Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), Google, Facebook, and the European Union. Even software giants like Microsoft, Adobe and Apple — ostensibly big beneficiaries of strict anti-piracy laws — now believe SOPA goes too far.

Instead of listening to the concerns of constituents, industry leaders, and world leaders about SOPA's threat to freedom, Smith and Wasserman Schultz pocket thousands of industry dollars, tour a recording studio and mingle with pop stars, and then record a PSA supporting their host's favorite legislation. If you had any question about their motivations for pushing such a controversial bill, the field trip to The Hit Factory pretty much speaks for itself.

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