As major technology websites such as Reddit and Wikipedia prepare to go dark this Wednesday in protest over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the U.S. House of Representatives and the similar Protect Intellectual Privacy Act (PIPA) act in the Senate, there are signs that the protests from the technology industry are causing Congress to rethink the two bills, which is supported by the entertainment industry and a variety of business groups whose goods are often counterfeited or pirated. The technology sector -- outside of online businesses -- has been conflicted, with the Business Software Alliance initially supporting SOPA but then withdrawing that support.
Many online advocates say the bills would let the government censor and otherwise regulate the free speech and information flow of the Internet and put Internet service providers and websites in the impossible position of acting as police for the validity of services advertised or promoted via their networks, as well as block access to parts of the Internet if ordered by courts to block access to alleged pirates' and counterfeiters' sites abroad.
The House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), said Friday that the "deeply flawed" SOPA will not be brought to a vote until a new consensus emerges over the bill. The committee that must approve the bill for full House consideration adjourned on Friday without acting on SOPA. The committee chairman and a primary author of the bill -- Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) -- agreed that further research was needed to see if the concerns over how SOPA might disrupt the Internet's operations were valid.
Similarly, on Thursday, one of the authors of the Senate's version, PIPA -- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) -- said he would rework the section giving the federal government the right to seize domain names of foreign sites found to be infringing. That section also requires Internet service providers to block access to the seized domains, which many ISPs say is impossible or would compromise the Internet if done.
On Saturday, via a blog post, President Barack Obama signaled his opposition to SOPA and PIPA in their current forms, saying he would oppose any bill that "reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet." Obama's statement did not threaten a veto of either bill, however, and left open the possibility that he would find some form of the proposed laws acceptable.
Cantor, Leahy, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), and others opposing the two bills as currently written have taken a similar line. Efforts are under way in both the Senate and House to rework parts of the the two bills to be less intrusive on online providers while addressing the piracy and counterfeiting issues that other business groups strongly advocate be tackled through new government powers. There is also an alternative bill called the Open Act proposed in the Senate.
Sign up for MIS Asia eNewsletters.