What's the status of two controversial bills designed to block foreign, rogue websites and prevent U.S. residents from accessing pirated movies and music?
The proposed bills are the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (Protect IP Act, or PIPA). Numerous businesses and technologists--for starters--have criticized the bills, leading an estimated 7,000 websites Wednesday to either black out their site (in the case of the English language version of Wikipedia) or to alter their site design to demonstrate their opposition to the bills (as in the case of Google and Mozilla).
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With opposition mounting, here's where the bills now stand:
1. SOPA is still alive.
Are both SOPA and PIPA now stalling? In fact, SOPA's chief sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), said Tuesday that he expects to bring the bill to a House Judiciary Committee markup hearing in February. At such hearings, legislators can debate the bill and propose amendments, as well as vote on whether the bill should then be passed to the full House. "To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses, and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America's intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and members to find ways to combat online piracy," said Smith Tuesday in a statement.
2. Payment provider cooperation is required.
SOPA would encourage--though not require--payment providers such as Visa and PayPal to not facilitate business transactions with any website that the government had deemed to be hosting pirated content. According to Smith, "the bill maintains provisions that 'follow the money' and cut off the main sources of revenue to foreign illegal sites ... and it provides innovators with a way to bring claims against foreign illegal sites that steal and sell their technology, products, and intellectual property."
3. SOPA loses court orders.
One sticking point for SOPA has been that service providers would be required to comply with a court order, obtained by the government, requiring them to block access to rogue foreign websites, and which would indemnify their actions. But in response to criticism of the provision, Smith recently removed the court-order provision from SOPA. As a result, it's not clear how website-blocking orders might be obtained or policed.
4. Bills continue to evolve.
Both SOPA and PIPA have continued to evolve in response to criticism. Notably, PIPA author Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) admitted that service providers wouldn't support any bill that filtered domain-name servers (DNS) for anti-piracy purposes. Likewise, to help prevent abuse, the bills' authors have added provisions that would impose damages--including costs and attorneys' fees--on anyone who makes a false claim.
5. DNS tinkering isn't popular.
As an anti-piracy technique, domain name filtering is proving to be quite unpopular. Notably, Google--which of course earns advertising revenue based on page impressions--has said it will resist any such measures. Likewise, both SOPA and PIPA have been derided by service providers, technology experts, as well as the Business Software Alliance, for being too sweeping in their approach.