The House Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Bill, which would grant ISPs and government lawyers unprecedented power to censor the Internet.
panel of industry heavyweights testified at the House Judiciary Committee
hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act on Nov. 16. If passed, SOPA would require
search engines, payment processors, Internet service providers and ad networks
to sever ties with a "rogue Website" for hosting pirated content.
enacted, the law would empower any intellectual property holder to demand a
halt of all advertising and credit card processing on an alleged rogue Website
without having to go to court. Government lawyers could take enforcement a step
further and go in front of a judge to obtain an injunction that would force
ISPs to block all access to a site that the government claimed was distributing
law would not require the site owner to be notified about the case or give the
site an opportunity to defend itself before the judge issues the order. The
bill would also give ISPs the discretion to block access to Websites on their
own if they believe the site is "dedicated to the theft of U.S. property."
equivalent bill, the PROTECT-IP Act, passed in the Senate earlier this year,
but Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., placed a hold on the bill, citing concerns about
its potential to "muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth."
Critics said SOPA is an even worse threat to free speech and Internet commerce
because it lowers the barriers on who can be considered in violation of the
Motion Picture Association of America is one of the lead voices supporting the
bill, followed by the United States Chamber of Commerce.
is similar to the "takedown notices" under the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act (DMCA) in which a copyright holder can demand infringing content
be removed from a site by writing a letter. SOPA goes a step further, however,
by allowing the holder to demand advertising networks and payment processors
shut down all services to the entire site, regardless of other legal content
being hosted, just by showing "specific facts" to support their
Oyama, Google's policy counsel, pointed out that SOPA's definition of
"rogue Websites" is poor, making it likely that plenty of legitimate
sites could be targeted. The remedies are also extreme, especially since ISPs
would be given immunity from lawsuits in case a shutdown was done in error.
original intent of the legislation was to target "rogue" offshore
illegal Websites operating outside of the United States' legal system,
according to Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition.
"Inexplicably," the bill has "morphed into a full-on assault
against lawful U.S. Internet companies," Erickson said, noting that
mainstream Websites could be shut down with little to no notice, and products
and services could be "sued out of existence." If passed, the bill
would "reverse" policies that supported technology innovation and the
Internet in the first place, he said.
Google, Web technology giants such as Mozilla and eBay, civil rights and
consumer advocacy organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and
Consumer Electronic Association, and IT industry groups such as the Computer
and Communications Industry Association and the Center for Democracy and
Technology, along with hundreds of law professors and lawyers, have flooded
Congress with letters opposing the proposed law.
hearing was also criticized for having a slate
of five pro-SOPA witnesses
and only one who opposed to the bill. The
committee denied the Consumer Electronics Association's request to be allowed
about SOPA have been raised by Tea Partiers, progressives, computer scientists,
human rights advocates, venture capitalists, law professors, independent
musicians and many more. Unfortunately, these voices were not heard at today's
hearing," said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics
of the bill's backers hinted that Google opposes the bill because it is making
money off piracy through some of its services, such as YouTube.
Google's record, their objection to authorizing a court to order a search
engine to not steer consumers to foreign rogue sites is more easily
understood," said the committee's chairman and the bill's sponsor, Rep.
Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., criticized Smith and others, saying, "Impugning the
motives of the critics rather than engaging in the substance is a
SOPA, "the U.S. copyright system will ultimately fail," testified
U.S. Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante. She defended the bill as being a
"measured" approach to combat piracy, and hinted that even these
controversial provisions would not be enough as "additional measure or
adjustments may be needed."
Erickson said Pallante's testimony demonstrates "a lack of appreciation
for the legal framework that has allowed the Internet and technology sector to
succeed as well as a lack of interest or curiosity as to what this bill will do
to the security and openness of the Internet."