SOPA Hearings Postponed Again

SOPAThe Washington Post has announced that the House Judiciary Committee confirmed that it will delay further debate on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) until after Congress returns from its winter recess and will resume the hearings “early next year.”

“I’m still waiting for the first available day we are back, which is not going to be until the middle of January,” Judiciary Chairman and bill author Lamar Smith of Texas told National Journal.

The Judiciary Committee engaged in a ten-hour session for bill markups last Thursday and met again for a short while on Friday.

SOPA is but one of a recent slew of controversial anti-piracy bills (COICA, PROTECT IP Act, etc.) Congress has debated over. This particular bill would allow the Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders blocking web sites from doing business with foreign web sites accused of infringing copyright rules. These court orders could also bar search engines like Google and domain name registrars like GoDaddy from linking or resolving queries to those web sites and require Internet service providers to block access. Supporters of the legislation include copyright industries such as the movie and music sectors as well as trademark owners and unions. The bill has specific instructions for advertising services among others, including instructions telling the advertising companies to stop receiving payment for ads from infringing web sites:

(i) REQUIRED ACTIONS.—An Internet advertising service that contracts to provide advertising to or for the foreign infringing site, or portion thereof, that is subject to the order, or that knowingly serves advertising to or for such site or such portion thereof, shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within 5 days after being served with a copy of the order, or within such time as the court may order, designed to—
(I) prevent its service from providing advertisements to or relating to the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order or a portion of such site specified in the order;
(II) cease making available advertisements for the foreign infringing site or such portion thereof, or paid or sponsored search results, links, or other placements that provide access to such foreign infringing site or such portion thereof; and
(III) cease providing or receiving any compensation for advertising or related services to, from, or in connection with such foreign infringing site or such portion thereof.

So far, the committee has voted down roughly twenty amendments designed to address concerns by digital rights groups, web-based companies, Internet engineers, and security experts. Representative Zoe Lofgren of California and other critics say SOPA would stifle innovation, free speech, and the integrity and security of the Internet. A coalition of some of the nation’s top technology-based firms—including Facebook, Google, and Yahoo—are also against the bill and have joined up with several other groups to oppose it. Groups like the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) have stated that this bill, and similar others, could unintentionally make sites less safe.

“The filtering technologies outlined in these bills also would significantly impact the currently reliable messaging processes that are depended on worldwide and would require drastic architectural changes to existing network operations,” MAAWG states. “These bills, if passed in their present form, will make it exceedingly difficult—if not arguably impossible—to protect the Internet community from ongoing attacks on critical infrastructure, to block spam, child pornography and malware, and to prevent phishing attacks against individuals and commercial enterprises.”

It is expected that the committee will have upwards of thirty amendments to the bill to look at once they return from winter recess. The full text of the bill can be read here.

Analysis: These SOPA hearings are a disaster. I watched the bill markups with Brandon on Thursday, and it was basically a bunch of people talking about a phenomenon they didn’t understand. Those for SOPA, and even some of those against it, had no clue what they were talking about and it shows. People who specialize in web security are being blatantly ignored. More than eighty cybersecurity experts and Internet engineers have raised issues on this bill, but it falls on deaf and dumb ears. These guys don’t know what they’re doing, and the worst part is they don’t care. They didn’t even bother asking these experts in the one hearing they’ve had on this issue.

A recent analysis has shown us why these guys are trying so hard, too: According to MapLight, a nonpartisan and nonprofit research group, the entertainment industries have given four times as much to the sponsors of SOPA as software and Internet companies have given to congressional opponents of the bill, raising a grand total above $2.5 million. As Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures said, “These bills were written by the content industry without any input from the technology industry. And they are trying to fast track them through Congress and into law without any negotiation with the technology industry.”

I don’t think people understand that this bill could take down sites like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, deviantArt, YouTube, or any other site that could potentially have material on it that infringes someone’s copyright. My personal web site could be taken down. This web site could get taken down. Hell, emulation will probably be among the first targets. (For a good article on the benefits of emulation, read the piece by Chris that we published.) Dozens of law experts have said that this bill and the PROTECT IP Act are unconstitutional. Does Congress care? Nope.

I guess if there’s any good news to this, it’s that this gives us more time to tell people that this is going on and to get more people involved. People have already made Firefox add-ons that bypass SOPA DNS Blocking. I am cautiously optimistic that this kind of activity is going to wake people up to how easily our Congress is lobbied to do things that are against our own safety and motivate more people to vote third party in the future.


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