SOPA critics send petition to Congress, warn against bill

December 16, 2011

A collection of interenet engineers critical to the early formation of the internet have written an open letter to Congress warning against the passage of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). As Cecilia Kang reported :

Some of the original engineers of the Internet called Thursday for lawmakers to scrap anti-piracy bills, saying the proposals would pose major technological barriers for the Web and stifle new innovations.

The letter comes as House Judiciary committee members on Thursday debate the Stop Online Piracy Act introduced by Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) that has drawn impassioned support from media firms but opposition by Web firms and some public interest groups.

At the hearing, California Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D) and Darrell Issa (R) have asked the committee to reconsider the bill and amendments to it in a hearing.

But many lawmakers of both parties are in support of the legislation.

“Because the U.S. produces the most intellectual property, our nation has the most to lose if we fail to address the problem of rogue sites,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Smith said in a statement.

Ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) said the bill should be passed to protect jobs.

“Online property crime robs American artists and harms American consumers,” Conyers said.

Engineers, however, have warned that the bills have been introduced without enough consideration of how laws would affect the Internet.

Vint Cerf of Google, domain name system software author Paul Vixie and Internet routing engineer Tony Li were among 83 high-profile engineers who signed an open letter to Congress in opposition to the House Stop Online Privacy Act and Senate Protect Intellectual Property Act.

“If enacted, either of these bills will create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure,” the engineers wrote.

Joining the voices of civil liberties groups which initially criticized the bill, some journalists are joining their voices to the growing backlash against SOPA. As Elizabeth Flock explained:

As the Stop Online Piracy Act heads to a vote in the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning, its opponents are lining up to stop it. The bill’s newest foe? Journalists.

First came the critiques of civil liberties and human rights groups. Then came the slams from Internet engineers and Web giants, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Wednesday, the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) piled on by sending Congress a letter to ask that it stop the bill. ASNE represents newspaper editors, editors of wire services and online-only news organizations, and other journalists.

If passed, SOPA would expand the ability of law enforcement and copyright holders to shut down any site that hosts pirated content. But as the American Censorship group voiced on the blog Boing Boing on Wednesday, many believe “SOPA would not only hurt free speech, it will choke off the Internet workforce and its readers by taking down entire Web sites.”

Yesterday, the Post’s Maura Judkis reported that a group of people who work on the Internet launched a visual petition so Congress could see the faces of those who would be hurt by SOPA. Journalists are among their ranks.

Last month, Jennifer Martinez of Politico wrote that SOPA will be a “shootout at the digital corral,” between lobbyists in the entertainment industry and Internet giants. She can now add journalists to that list.

Dan Gillmor, a professor of digital media entre­pre­neur­ship at Arizona State University, shared the ASNE letter on his Google+ page Wednesday, writing: “Finally, journalists see the threat from SOPA and . . . this runaway train.”

Google’s founder Sergey Brin also lent his voice to the fight against SOPA, calling it ‘censorship’. As Cecilia Kang reported :

Google has emerged as one of the biggest corporate critics of a House anti-piracy bill, with co-founder Sergey Brin now likening the proposal to Internet censorship practices in China and Iran.

Brin took to the Google+ social networking site Thursday to post his opinion of the Stop Online Piracy Act being debated Thursday in the House Judiciary Committee for markup. He also opposes the Senate’s version of the measure, known as the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

“Imagine my astonishment when the newest threat to free speech has come from none other but the United States. Two bills currently making their way through congress -- SOPA and PIPA -- give the U.S. government and copyright holders extraordinary powers including the ability to hijack DNS and censor search results (and this is even without so much as a proper court trial),” Brin wrote. “While I support their goal of reducing copyright infringement (which I don't believe these acts would accomplish), I am shocked that our lawmakers would contemplate such measures that would put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world.”

Some lawmakers have bristled at those comparisons.

During the hearing, Rep. Berman (D-Calif.) attacked similar analogies made by Rep. Lofgren (D-Calif.) about SOPA’s ability to censor Web users through surveillance and filtering of their activities.

“That’s nonsense,” Berman said. “There’s a big difference between regulating commercial activity designed to deceive consumers and violate ownership rights and those seeking to suppress political conduct and dissent.”

More from The Washington Post

Issa on OPEN Act’s strengths and weaknesses

Alternative online piracy bill expected

Opinion: Overkill on internet privacy

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