And this is not the only venue for concern about the entertainment industry's clout. Indeed, critics say the industry has had too much sway over the very drafting of SOPA and PIPA.

The web site found that, over the last two years, the film, television, music, and radio industries outspent Internet companies 4-to-1 on donations to members of the House Judiciary Committee considering SOPA.

Whitehouse, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee that unanimously signed off on PIPA last year, has received $213,614 in campaign donations from entertainment media over the last five years, compared to $78,159 from Internet companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Whitehouse's office has denied any undue influence from Hollywood. But even if Congress's motives are pure, critics say the body could spoil the open, innovation-friendly Internet at the behest of a narrow interest.

"What this bill represents is a certain industry deciding that [the open Internet is] not worth protecting in order to shelter a legacy source of profit," says Parker Higgins, a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based non-profit that advocates for "digital rights."

Indeed, the geekery's most compelling case against SOPA and PIPA is this: the bills would interfere with a bright spot in the American economy, an engine of free speech and democracy, in defense of a dying business model.

Jonathan Stark, 43, a Providence-based software consultant who has written to Whitehouse voicing his opposition to the bills, says any company whose product can be copied and pasted has a big, fundamental problem — a problem that no sure-to-fail anti-piracy legislation will solve.

And he fears the federal government, in pursuing a fool's errand, will inflict unforeseen harm.

Stark says he's old enough to remember when access to knowledge was limited to the books on the local library shelf. The Internet has exploded those limits, has created remarkable access to the global brain.

"To see that threatened," he says, "rankles me to no end."

David Scharfenberg can be reached at

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