The Stop Online Piracy Act appeared set for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives this week, but growing opposition is putting its passage in question.
SOPA and its companion bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act, aim to protect copyright holders from online piracy of movies, television shows and music. The entertainment industry largely backs the bill, stating piracy is ruining the industry’s revenue stream and infringing on its copyrights.
For a while, opposition to the bill was contained within tight, tech circles, but this week, public outcry against the bill made headlines and possibly raised more questions than answers in the minds of U.S. legislators.
In a two-plus hour session, the bill’s supporters spoke before House Judiciary Committee members, presenting SOPA as a bipartisan effort to punish only the most blatant copyright offenders, mostly foreign “rogue” Internet sites.
Google, which has joined other Internet giants in vocal opposition to SOPA, was characterized as “pro piracy” by the bill’s sponsor, Lamar Smith (R., Texas) and other committee members, sparking tension and disagreement among legislators.
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt acknowledged piracy is a concern and made it clear his company does not support it, but also calls the bill “draconian,” joining other opponents who use words like “blacklisting” and “censorship” to describe it. Many popular technology sites have posted “stop censorship” banners on their home pages of late, in an effort to underscore their strong opposition to the bill.
SOPA’s detractors say the bill may cut off online payments to alleged piracy operations, inviting partnerships between Hollywood and companies such as PayPal and MasterCard in the name of copyright protection.
Some opponents also question how the bill’s authority to block certain web addresses and prevent users from reaching them would be applied, fearing its passage could endanger the innovation that defines Internet businesses.
“If this law had been passed years ago, YouTube could not exist today,” wrote Dan Gillmor in The Guardian, because its developers would have been too afraid to risk breaking the law.
Legislators don’t appear close to bipartisan consensus on SOPA. To the contrary, infighting and confusion are reportedly increasing as the debate escalates.
“I don’t believe this bill has any chance on the House floor. I think it’s way too extreme, it infringes on too many areas that our leadership will know is simply too dangerous to do in its current form,” Darrell Issa (R., Calif.) told The Hill.
Issa also sketched out an alternate antipiracy plan, suggesting a complaint process for copyright infringement similar to the International Trade Commission’s patent investigation system, although some might argue the high number of patent lawsuits currently pending in the technology industry may make that plan less than attractive to legislators.
As heated debate continues, it’s unclear where middle ground lies between the competing Internet and entertainment industries, and how lawmakers will ultimately decide the issue.
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