WASHINGTON – Screenwriters who have shaped television programs such as The Late Show With David Letterman, CBS Radio News, How I Met Your Mother and Law & Order told a roomful of Capitol Hill staffers on Tuesday that a clampdown on Internet piracy would be consistent with the principles of net neutrality.
"We support net neutrality – otherwise it is almost certain that most of the content consumers view will be produced by a relative handful of entities," said Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America (East) and former senior writer for Bill Moyers Journal. "It is critical for the potential of the Internet and other digital media that diversity, accessibility, competitiveness and imagination not be stifled by multinational corporate behemoths that would restrict access for their own commercial gain."
"Contrary to the assertions of some of its opponents, the Internet does not promote digital piracy," Winship said. "We strongly support Senator [Patrick] Leahy’s [(D-VT)] Protect IP Act."
Part of the purpose behind the panel was to build support for the Protect IP Act, which the Writers Guild of America strongly supports. The measure would empower officials to crack down on digital theft of intellectual property by ordering Internet service providers and search engines to filter results and block websites authorities deem to be infringing on copyrights.
Critics of Protect IP fear that it could be abused by officials to shut down websites, and the bill was put on hold last month by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who said "the costs of the legislation far outweighed the benefits" and warned that it would "muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth."
Few reporters were invited to the event, which featured a panel of ten screenwriter panelists and an audience of at least 60 Congressional staffers -- several of them worked for lawmakers who sit on the Judiciary Committee, which oversees Internet regulations and online piracy.
One of the panelists forcefully warned that failing to effectively go after Internet piracy – in an age where more and more viewership of television shows occurs online – could extinguish the fire that fuels the television industry.
"There's a popular misconception that when you steal content, you’re only stealing from rich corporations who don’t need the money," said Gina Gionfriddo, television writer for Law & Order and Cold Case and WGA Council Member. "But Internet piracy really takes income out of my pocket, out of the pockets of actors, writers, directors and technicians who create these programs."
Winship and other screenwriters on the panel touted the vitality of a free and Internet –- where no piece of information is prioritized over another – in fueling "entrepreneurial spirit" and sustaining the livelihoods of independent artists.
"Many, many people in my profession believe that net neutrality is essential to the narrative of our work, to the endurance of our business, and even to the vitality of our democracy," said Duane Tollison, a news writer for CBS Radio Network and WGA Council Member.
Other panelists included Tom Rurecht, writer for "How I Met Your Mother" and former staff writer for the David Letterman; Daryn Strauss, creator of the web series Downsized and founder of DigitalChickTV.com; Thom Woodley, online video pioneer and founder of Diorama; Julie Ann Emery, creator, director and executive producer of the award-winning web series Then We Got Help; Thomas Poarch, co-creator, writer and producer of the web series Brosephs; and Michael Kantor, director, producer and writer of PBS documentary Broadway: The American Musical.
Photo credit: Creative Commons
Stephen C. Webster contributed to this report.