Opponents step up pressure against SOPA, PIPA

Even after proposed changes, the copyright bills still contain several troublesome sections, opponents say

The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act being debated in the U.S. Congress still have major problems, opponents said Monday, even after the bills' lead sponsors promised to take out some much-criticized portions of the legislation.

Even as officials with President Barack Obama's administration appeared to oppose SOPA and PIPA, opponents of the bills said there's more work to be done to stop the bills.

With new opposition to both bills, the Internet is "winning a fight" against SOPA and PIPA, Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said Tuesday. But Newmark, during a Web chat attended by more than 1,200 people, urged opponents of SOPA and PIPA to continue to contact their lawmakers and read about the bills.

"The Internet is us," he said.

Although House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, has privately promised to stall SOPA until a consensus can be reached, the Senate plans to move forward with a vote on PIPA as early as this month. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, said he hopes to have an amended version of PIPA come up for a vote in late September. PIPA has some problems, he said, but it could help protect U.S. jobs.

With the White House statement and the Cantor promise on SOPA, opponents of the two bills said Monday that momentum seems to be turning against passage of the legislation. But opponents of SOPA and PIPA hosted two briefings on Monday, with the focus on how to further derail the bills.

Last week, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and lead sponsor of SOPA, and Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and lead sponsor of SOPA, said they will offer amendments to the bills to take out controversial provisions that would require ISPs (Internet service providers) to block subscriber access to foreign websites accused of copyright infringement. Under the old provisions, ISPs would have to block the sites after receiving a court order requested by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Opponents of the bills said they're waiting to see the language of the proposed amendments from Leahy and Smith. Even if the ISP provisions are removed, the bills still have significant problems, said Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director of Public Knowledge, a digital rights group.

PIPA's language is still broad, allowing the DOJ or copyright holders to take court actions targeting any foreign websites that enable or facilitate copyright infringement, Siy said. The bill does not define what enabling or facilitating infringement means, and could include ISPs, Web hosting services, or any site that links to a suspected infringer, he said.

"That affects virtually the entire Internet," Siy said.

In addition, the bills allow copyright holders to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks and payment processors to stop doing business with accused infringers. The legal actions from copyright holders are "an incredible amount of power that somebody can have over a website," he said.

The bills also give lawsuit protections to ISPs, ad networks payment processors, search engines and domain name registrars that voluntarily take action to cut off sites suspected of infringement. "They could cut somebody off, and not be liable, even if they do so in a discriminatory fashion," he said. "If an ISP decided they wanted to cut off YouTube.ca or some other viral video site overseas, they would be immune from any sort of antitrust or net neutrality investigation."

Organizers of an Internet strike said they expect about 7,000 websites to participate in a blackout Wednesday in opposition to SOPA and PIPA. Among the sites going dark for part of the day Wednesday are Reddit, the English-language Wikipedia, Mozilla.org, MoveOn.org, and the Cheezburger family of sites. Google said Tuesday it plans to highlight its opposition to the bills on its home page.

While backers of SOPA and PIPA have said the bills won't affect U.S. sites, the bills could apply to sites with non-U.S. domains, including Reddit.tv or URL shortening service bit.ly, said Erik Martin, general manager of Reddit. Copyright holders could drive Reddit out of business with court orders, he said.

Supporters of the bills dismissed the continued concerns. The continued opposition is to bills that "simply do not exist," said Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, a coalition of artists, trade groups and entertainment companies.

The bills would target only foreign websites designed or operated to infringe U.S. copyrights, she said. The two bills "contain protections to ensure that free speech and innovation are protected, and that only commercially and technically reasonable approaches are deployed," she added. "No bill currently pending in Congress would inhibit free speech or break the Internet or stifle innovation. These accusations are not true."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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