SOPA And PIPA Sponsors Caving In To Opposition
TPM— As more and more actions are planned in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), the dual pieces of anti-online piracy legislation moving through Congress, the architects and supporters of these bills have finally begun tiptoeing back.
PIPA co-sponsor Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) on late Friday released a statement saying: “I would not vote for final passage of PIPA, as currently written, on the Senate floor.”
However, Cardin said he would remain a co-sponsor because it would give him “the opportunity to be an active participant in the process of addressing the most serious concerns raised by my constituents.”
Meanwhile, six other Republican Senate co-sponsors of PIPA — Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), John Cornyn (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Tom Coburn (R-OK) — sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Friday asking him to delay the impending full Senate vote on PIPA scheduled for January 24.
As the letter (which was cc’ed to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)) reads:
Since the mark-up, we have increasingly heard from a large number of constituents and other stakeholders 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. Moreover, in light of potential cybersecurity implications, we believe hearing from the Administration and relevant agencies is imperative.
Reid in mid December filed cloture, breaking a block on PIPA that was put in place by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) to prevent the legislation from moving forward. Reid’s move meant that the full Senate would have to quickly vote on PIPA despite the rising tide of opposition to the bill and calls to slow the process down.
As Donny Shaw points out at OpenCongress: The letter marks an “incredible turn of events,” given that support for PIPA seemed so high just a few short weeks ago.
And in perhaps the best sign yet that the online protests started by Reddit are having their intended affect, SOPA sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and PIPA sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) both released statements on their official websites over the past 48 hours announcing that they would be at least delaying the implementation of one of the more reviled aspects shared by both SOPA and PIPA, the one that would force Internet Service Providers (companies including AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner) to impose Domain Name Service (DNS) blocking on foreign webpages accused of hosting pirated content. Essentially, the DNS blocking provisions would force ISPs to show an error message when consumers try to navigate to a website accused of piracy.
After hearing from various constituents and industry personnel who pointed out that the provision would essentially break the Internet for U.S. users, both lawmakers decided it is time to put the breaks on at least that part of the anti-piracy effort.
Smith was the more reactive of the two to these complaints, saying he would remove entirely the DNS blocking provision from SOPA.
“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 [House Judiciary] Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision,” Smith wrote in a statement posed on his website Friday. “We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers.”
Critically, Smith’s statement doesn’t say that the DNS provision will be eliminated entirely, only that it will be temporarily removed until “further examination” occurs.
That would likely entail more hearings involving “technical experts,” aka “the nerds,” Web entrepreneurs and engineers like Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, who are due to testify in a hearing on January 18 at a separate committee, the House Oversight Committee, which is chaired by stalwart SOPA critic Rep. Darrell Issa.
And the rest of Smith’s statement continues to explain just why SOPA was needed and why it was the perfect solution to cracking down on online piracy. Apparently, it just needed a little tweaking.
Intriguingly, this is actually the second major tweak Smith has made to SOPA on his own volition since he introduced it into the House in late October 2011. Smith also introduced a manager’s amendement in December attempting to narrow the definitions of what could be considered a “rogue” website under the bills, but critics weren’t satisfied, pointing out numerous other problems the remaining over-broad language.
Still, Smith’s turnabout is impressive, and especially rich given that less than 24 hours prior, he gave an interview to Reuters defying his critics and vowing to pass the legislation.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), sponsor of PIPA, couched his words even more. On Thursday, his office released a statement to the following effect:
“I remain confident that the ISPs – including the cable industry, which is the largest association of ISPs – would not support the legislation if its enactment created the problems that opponents of this provision suggest. Nonetheless, this is in fact a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it.
“As I prepare a managers’ amendment to be considered during the floor debate, I will therefore propose that the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied before implemented, so that we can focus on the other important provisions in this bill, which are essential to protecting American intellectual property online, and the American jobs that are tied to intellectual property.”
As SOPA critic and IP expert Mike Masnick pointed out at Techdirt, however, “That is NOT removing the DNS blocking provisions. It is merely delaying them.” Still, Masnick was more celebratory about the late Friday developments, writing “All of this, by the way, is because tons of you (tons!) have stepped up and reached out to your Reps. and Senators and let them know that these bills are unacceptable. Let’s see if Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy and Lamar Smith finally admit that they, too, can hear you.”
Markham Erickson, executive director of Net Coalition, a Web industry group that represents Google, Facebook and numerous other leading brands, released a statement Friday applauding the move but saying it didn’t go far enough: “”While we await details on revisions to the House and Senate legislation, we wish to underscore that significant amendments still need to be made. Significant concerns with the private right of action, mandated search filtering, and legal risk and uncertainty still remain.”
Indeed, as Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director of Public Knowledge, an online citizens’ rights organization, said in a statement released to the press late Friday: “While we are pleased that some progress is being made, we are also firm in our opposition to both bills because some very bad provisions remain. The bills are still over-broad in their reach, for example (as in the Senate bill) allowing court orders against anyone a providing ‘directory, index, reference, pointer, or hypertext link.’ Both bills still include a private right of action with few protections from abuse, meaning that sites can be killed without ever being proven to violate copyright.”
And as Andrew Rasiej, Chair of NY Tech Meetup’s Board told TPM via telephone: “If Reid decides to cancel the vote, we’ll turn our protest into a celebration.”