U.S. President Barak Obama publicly condemned the proposed SOPA legislation for the first time over the weekend, and Congress responded by dropping the bill, at least for now. SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, was presented as a tool to help stop online intellectual property theft, although opponents to the bill said it would give the government control over the content Internet users can view.
In response to online petitions against the SOPA legislation, the President said even though he sees online piracy from foreign websites as a problem, he won’t support any bill that erodes freedom of speech or expression, or that potentially threatens online security.
“Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small,” White House spokesman Macon Phillips said. He added, “We will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”
The President targeted key parts of the SOPA bill that would require domain hosts to block websites suspected of sharing content that’s copyright protected based on little more than a complaint.
“Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security,” Mr. Phillips said. “Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online.”
Bill supporters responded first by dropping language that required hosting companies to block websites suspected of copyright infringement, then later shelved the entire bill. A new version could, however, find its way back to the debate floor should law makers come to a consensus on wording that’s more to the President’s liking.
SOPA would’ve made it surprisingly easy to get court orders to shut down any website suspected of participating — directly or indirectly — in copyright infringement. Internet service providers would’ve been required to block access to sites that host or link to other sites suspected of copyright infringement, and unauthorized streaming of copyright-protected content would be a felony offense.
The man that introduced the bill, Lamar Smith (R-TX), had hoped to push it through the House Judiciary Committee before the Christmas holiday. His efforts, however, stalled and lawmakers picked it back up again after the new year.
While SOPA may be on the back burner for now, a similar bill called the Protect IP Act (PIPA) is still working its way through the Senate.
In response to both SOPA and PIPA, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) launched what he’s calling the Keep The Web OPEN Project to underscore the importance of a free and open Internet and to offer up alternative legislation for protecting intellectual property while avoiding online censorship.
“The OPEN Act secures two fundamental principles. First, Americans have a right to benefit from what they’ve created. And second, Americans have a right to an open internet,” the OPEN website states. “Our duty is to protect these rights.”
The President’s stance on SOPA, along with Congress’s decision to put the bill on hold for now, is good news for everyone that opposed the bill, but it isn’t a complete victory. Politicians could still take SOPA’s language and add it to other bills, or find new wording that brings the current bill back to life.
For now, the President is encouraging businesses and end users to work together on combating online piracy. “We expect and encourage all private parties, including both content creators and Internet platform providers working together, to adopt voluntary measures and best practices to reduce online piracy,” he said.