Group protests committee interest in SOPA provision

A draft bill would expand an intellectual-property attaché program, but Public Knowledge questions the legislative process

The Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives is moving toward passage of a small portion of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, raising concerns among SOPA opponents.

The committee has released a draft bill, called the Intellectual Property Attach頁ct, which would expand an existing program that places intellectual property attach鳠in U.S. embassies overseas.

The attaché °rogram was not a controversial piece of SOPA, but digital rights group Public Knowledge on Wednesday accused the committee of rushing to pass the draft bill without public oversight.

Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and chairman of the committee, floated the draft bill on Monday in the hope of voting on it in committee Tuesday, but has since pulled the bill from the committee's website. The quick time frame for voting on the bill led Public Knowledge to complain that the committee was trying to rush the legislation.

Smith was the chief sponsor of SOPA, a bill that would have required search engines, domain name registrars, online payment processors and other Web services to stop doing business with websites accused of copyright violations.

The draft bill had no legislative hearing and wasn't formally introduced, Public Knowledge said in a news release. After the failure of SOPA in Congress, about 70 groups called for a "more open, transparent, and deliberative process on bills dealing with intellectual property policy," Gigi Sohn, Public Knowledge's president, wrote in a letter to committee leaders. "The current approach to the Intellectual Property Attaché ¦ails to meet that standard."

Sohn called on the committee to withdraw the draft legislation and instead "pursue an open dialogue with the public" on copyright issues.

"It makes little sense to add to the bureaucracy when the current copyright system is in desperate need of modernization," she wrote. "If the committee is to divert more taxpayer resources towards improving the copyright system, it should start with modernizing the registration system so that artists big and small can get paid."

A Judiciary Committee spokeswoman downplayed Public Knowledge's concerns. The bill draft was posted online, but pulled when committee members decided it wasn't ready to be voted on, she said. A new version will be posted online before the committee acts, she said.

"Unfortunately, some groups and blogs have misreported that this is a follow-up to the Stop Online Piracy Act," she added. "That is not the case."

The committee has met with groups that opposed and supported SOPA on the draft bill, she added. The bill would ensure the better use of funds for the attaché °rogram, she said.

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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