Online piracy legislation outcry prompts White House response

On Saturday, the administration responded to petitions signed by tens of thousands of people opposing legislation

Online piracy legislation has caused such an outcry that the White House is now weighing in.

There's no doubt that online piracy bills debated in Congress within the last couple of months -- namely SOPA and PIPA -- have been highly controversial. Now the Obama administration has addressed the contentious issue.

On Saturday, the administration responded to petitions signed by tens of thousands of people opposing the legislation by releasing a statement indicating what it would, and would not support.

"While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet," reads the statement written by the president's chief technology officials.

The bills under consideration in Congress -- the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate -- were intended to combat the theft of copyrighted materials by preventing search engines from sending users to sites where stolen materials are distributed. They also would allow people and companies to sue to stop what they believed to be theft of protected content. Such provisions have been opposed by free speech advocates who have said the legislation far exceeds its intended scope, and threatens the Constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.

While the Obama administration said it strongly opposed central elements of Congressional efforts to enforce copyrights on the Internet, it also maintained that online piracy is "a real problem that harms the American economy, threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation's most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs."

To that, some people have taken issue.

"I've seen no discussion of credible evidence of this economic harm," wrote Tim O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media and a self-avowed Internet activist, on his Google+ page.

In its statement, the White House asked petitioners to think about solutions to the problem and not just "what's the wrong thing to do." It also said the administration would be inviting the organizer of the petition and a random sample of signers to a conference call to discuss the issue. After that, it promised to host an online event to get more input and answer questions.

The outcry against the antipiracy legislation indeed appears to be swaying lawmakers.

The White House statement follows news that the lead sponsor of SOPA said he will remove the much-debated provision that would require Internet service providers to block their subscribers from accessing foreign websites accused of infringing the copyrights of U.S. companies. That decision came a day after Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said he plans to amend PIPA to take out a similar ISP provision, due to feedback from several groups.

Follow Christina on Twitter and Google+ for even more tech news and commentary and followToday@PCWorld on Twitter, too.

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Christina DesMarais

PC World (US online)
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