This was a potato too hot for even Congress to handle.
Over the weekend, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, obtained a promise from House leadership to temporarily shelve the Stop Online Piracy Act until there was a consensus on it.
Issa, who opposed the bill, had been scheduled to hold a hearing on it Jan. 18, and an Internet protest on the same day over censorship and financial provisions of the bill was gathering steam.
The protest, in which some of the Net's larger websites would either black out their sites for the day or at least post introductory messages against SOPA, may or may not still happen. While the proposed legislation is on hold, it has not gone away, and a sister bill in the Senate, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, remains active.
All the moves and countermoves over SOPA the last several months might qualify as, well, a SOPA opera. Just last weekend, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch was using his new Twitter account to attack Google and the Obama administration for its opposition to provisions of SOPA.
“Piracy leader is Google,” Murdoch wrote. Google “streams movies free, sells [advertising] around them. No wonder pouring millions into lobbying.”
And: “So Obama has thrown in his lot with Silicon Valley paymasters who threaten all software creators with piracy, plain thievery.”
Google fired back with a letter of its own sent to CNET, saying: “This is just nonsense. Last year we took down 5 million infringing web pages from our search results and invested more than $60 million in the fight against bad ads ... We fight pirates and counterfeiters every day.”
SOPA, introduced in late October as HR 3261, would allow copyright holders or the Justice Department to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. The court orders could bar online advertisers and payment facilitators such as PayPal from doing business with allegedly infringing websites, bar search engines from linking to such sites, and require Internet service providers to block access to the sites.
The bill would make unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison for 10 infringements within six months.
Critics have said the legislation is so broad that it could result in sites like YouTube being barred because a single user posted an infringing TV or movie clip.
The furor has been building over several months, but first seemingly came to a head last month when GoDaddy.com, the Net's largest domain-name registrar, backed SOPA. A boycott of GoDaddy was launched in protest, with thousands of Web sites pulling their business out, and GoDaddy backed off, saying it supported anti-piracy legislation but that SOPA was flawed.
The legislation is backed and was possibly proposed initially by the entertainment industry, including television broadcasters, cable companies, the Motion Picture Association, the NFL, software and video game publishers, music publishers and some entertainment labor unions.
The legislation is opposed, at least in its current form, by a who's who of Internet giants, including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, AOL (the parent company of Patch), LinkedIn, eBay, WikiMedia and Reddit. It's also opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the American Libraries Association, the European Union Parliament and computer scientist Vinton Cerf, sometimes referred to as the father of the Internet.
The politics of the legislation has made for strange bedfellows, garnering bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. The legislation was introduced by conservative Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and supported by the likes of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
The opposition includes, besides the Obama administration, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, as well as conservative Issa.
Issa is promoting a bill of his own as an alternative, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act. It not only takes a less restrictive route, but the way in which it is being handled is promoted by him as a new way to write legislation: Using a website, Keepthewebopen.com, as an open online legislative platform that lets anyone suggest changes to the draft bill.
It's a refreshing change from legislation that seems to have come straight from an entertainment-industry lobbyist's computer.