SOPA Stalling As Opposition Grows

Two controversial anti-piracy bills, SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate, face mounting criticism for going too far to block pirated content.

Mathew J. Schwartz, Contributor

January 17, 2012

3 Min Read

Is Congress giving up on forcibly blocking foreign, rogue websites as an anti-piracy technique?

Two anti-piracy bills--the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (Protect IP) in the Senate--have proposed protecting copyrighted content, including movies and music, by redirecting people away from rogue websites. The legislation would empower authorities to get a court order requiring U.S. service providers to block the domain name system (DNS) entries for any foreign website that was deemed to be hosting pirated content.

But opposition to the bills continues to mount. Numerous websites, including Wikipedia, plan to "go dark" this Wednesday to protest the SOPA legislation. Meanwhile, an anti-SOPA petition hosted on garnered 50,000 signatures.

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In response, the White House Saturday weighed in on the two proposed bills, saying the administration wouldn't support any legislation that messed with DNS, for starters. "Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," read the White House's statement.

The statement--signed by Victoria Espinel, the intellectual property enforcement coordinator at Office of Management and Budget; Aneesh Chopra, the country's CTO; and Howard Schmidt, special assistant to the President and cybersecurity coordinator for national security staff--acknowledged that "online piracy is a real problem." But they added: "We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet."

In the wake of the White House's statement, SOPA author Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said in a statement that "after consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision."

Likewise, last week PIPA's author, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), told Vermont Public Radio that in response to increasing criticism of his bill, said that he was willing to "give it more study before implementing it."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he still wants to bring PIPA to the Senate floor for a full vote on January 24. But six Republican senators--two of them, PIPA sponsors--Friday wrote to him urging that he delay such a move. In particular, they cited hearing from numerous constituents "with vocal concerns about possible unintended consequences of the proposed legislation, including breaches in cybersecurity, damaging the integrity of the Internet, costly and burdensome litigation, and dilution of First Amendment rights."

One of SOPA's chief opponents, Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)-- author of a competing bill, the Open Act, which would not use domain name filtering--has also put the future of the House bill in doubt. "I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House," said Issa, in a statement released Monday. "Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote."

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About the Author(s)

Mathew J. Schwartz


Mathew Schwartz served as the InformationWeek information security reporter from 2010 until mid-2014.

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