Let’s say the protests over SOPA and PIPA succeed, and Congress nixes its online-piracy bills. That’s not a foregone conclusion yet, though more and more senators have been backing off. What then? Should Congress create a better anti-piracy bill? Or just drop the subject altogether?
There’s certainly momentum for an improved piracy bill. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) have been collaborating on the OPEN Act, which would focus on cutting off money from foreign sites dedicated to willful infringement. Law professor Eric Goldman has a good synopsis of the bill here. The OPEN Act complements existing law, rather than radically revamping it the way SOPA and PIPA do. Disputes would be handled by the International Trade Commission, which has experience handling these matters. And, unlike SOPA, the OPEN Act has stricter safeguards against abuse. Perhaps most importantly, Wyden and Issa are inviting public comment on the bill, rather than crafting it behind closed doors.
Perhaps no single member of Congress deserves as much credit for slowing the advance of the aggressive online-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA as Sen. Ron Wyden, who for much of last year fought a one-man battle to keep the Senate version of the legislation from moving through on a unanimous vote. Now, on the eve of a major online mobilization against the proposed laws, I spoke with Wyden about why he opposes the bills, where the process stands, and what his alternative is. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Ezra Klein: Let’s go back to the beginning of your involvement in this. The Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act are well known at this point, but your involvement began earlier, with the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA).
Ron Wyden: I have been fighting this for almost a year-and-a-half. The COICA bill, which was the predecessor in the Senate to the Protect IP Act, came out in September. It was by Chairman Pat Leahy, just as Protect IP is. And since then, our side has been fighting above our weight. We’re up against one of the most powerful, savvy, and active of the traditional Washington lobbies. Their bill has cleared the committee unanimously twice. And we said from the very beginning that there’s a lot on the Senate calender, these are complicated issues, and when this is front-and-center, there will be a tidal wave of opposition. And we’ve been proven right on that.
EK: And how exactly did you slow the bill?