The White House voiced opposition to antipiracy legislation pending in Congress, casting further doubt on its passage as censorship concerns mount.
Three advisers to President Barack Obama believe the Stop Online Piracy Act, as well as its companion bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act, are likely to raise the risk of litigation for Internet businesses and harm free speech, according to a blog post written Saturday, outlining reservations about the bills. Both pieces of legislation aim to protect copyright holders from online piracy.
“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” Obama’s advisers said in a statement.
White House opposition could deal a death-blow for the antipiracy bills, which have been the subject of heated debate both on Capitol Hill and in the public sector for several weeks.
The entertainment industry largely backs the bills out of fear that online sharing of movies, television shows and music threatens their professions, livelihoods and ability to compete in a lucrative market.
“It’s very difficult to compete with free,” said Rick Cotton, general counsel of Comcast Corporation’s NBC Universal, in the Wall Street Journal. “New business models and new offerings are going to get stifled in the crib if there’s an unlimited tidal wave of stolen content on the Internet.”
However, the bills are heavily opposed by technology companies, consumer advocacy groups, Internet businesses, and even hackers. The hacktivist group Anonymous declared it will take part in a day of online silence on January 18, joining several other Internet sites in a shutdown in protest of the bills at the same time preliminary hearings on SOPA begin in the House Oversight Committee.
Wikipedia in the U.S. will go silent on January 18 as well, to call attention to its opposition to SOPA.
The bills’ opponents maintain the legislation will squelch innovation and effectively shut down Internet freedoms, with some more wild accusations equating the proposed legislation to dictatorial censorship methods.
Companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Twitter, and eBay ran newspaper advertisements urging lawmakers to think twice before supporting the bill, and the White House’s recent statements affirm their voices are being heard at the top.
The Senate will hold a procedural vote on SOPA on January 24. House PIPA backers haven’t announced a legislative date yet, but said Friday they are removing a provision about blocking Internet sites accused of copyright infringement in the interest of cybersecurity, bringing the bill closer to a vote.
Saturday’s statement did not clarify whether Obama would veto the antipiracy bills if they do come across his desk. As the debate rages on, the President and his staff expect to spell out more formally what exactly their opposition entails.
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