The circus atmosphere of the hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), reflected the high-stakes, emotional nature of the debate over how to protect copyrighted movies, songs or books online without trampling on the free speech of individuals and companies.
The measure has been praised by Hollywood titans, pharmaceutical giants and record labels who want stronger enforcement of copyright-infringement laws online. But it has drawn the ire of Silicon Valley types, including founding Internet engineers such as Vint Cerf and Web giants Yahoo and Facebook, who worry that the bill gives law enforcement too much power to shut down their sites.
During the marathon House Judiciary Committee markup of the proposal, known as SOPA, representatives agreed to revisions to better protect U.S. Web sites if they inadvertently host copyrighted movies, songs or books. A similar Senate bill was approved last May in the Judiciary Committee, but analysts said any legislation won’t be considered until next year.
“There is bipartisan support as well as bipartisan opposition,” Smith said in his opening remarks. “I hope we remember we are among Judiciary friends.”
Those words fell on deaf ears.
Critics of SOPA have rallied some of the biggest heavyweights in the technology world, including Google, Facebook and Wikipedia, to join the fight against its passage. As Hayley Tsukayama explained:
As the debate over the markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act continues on Capital Hill, more technology heavyweights are calling for average netizens to register their discontent with the bill. Companies such as Reddit and Wikipedia are redoubling their efforts in opposing the measure, which aims to target online pirates in part by redirecting Web traffic from sites that host pirated content.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Reddit have been pushing a campaign arguing that SOPA, as written, would harm future innovation.
“Big corporations are lobbying Congress to pass a bill that would prevent sites such as Reddit, YouTube, Google or Bit.ly from ever getting off the ground,” the group’s campaign asserts, before issuing a call to have participants calling on their members of Congress to oppose the bill.
Underpinning the argument about the bill’s possible effects on innovation are two open letters to Congress, one sent by the founders of several prominent Web firms, including Google, Twitter, Wikipedia, and the other by engineers who were instrumental in creating the structure of the Internet, The Washington Post reported.