House Committee Postpones SOPA Debate to January

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-12-16

As expected, the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee postponed further debate on the Stop Online Piracy Act until January, when Congress comes back from the holiday break.

During the two-day marathon markup sessions, lawmakers on the Judiciary committee debated and voted on 20-some amendments. When the committee picks up the debate again, it will still have more than 30 amendments to wade through.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the bill's sponsor and the committee chairman, had initially refused to consider additional hearings to discuss the technical aspects of the proposed legislation. However, Smith seemed willing to consider a proposal on Dec. 16 to have a formal study by cyber-experts to examine the bill's measures, especially if such a study would clear up misconceptions about the bill.

Security experts, Internet companies and civil liberties groups have raised security concerns about the bill, which would require Internet service providers and domain name registrars to muck around with the Domain Name System to prevent users from accessing foreign Websites accused of copyright infringement.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) called for both a classified hearing and a public hearing on the cyber-security issues, noting that no technical experts had been called to testify at the previous hearing in November.

"I think it would be dangerous for members on this committee to vote on final passage of this bill without having at least one hearing and some clarification" on the security impact, Chaffetz said.

During the second day of the markup, the committee rejected 20-8 the amendment introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) that would have removed provisions in the bill allowing private copyright holders to obtain court orders to force payment processors and advertising networks to stop business with the accused Website.

The United States Department of Justice can obtain court orders to force ad networks and payment processors to cut off ties with the Website, as well as forcing search engines to linking to those sites. Sensenbrenner felt there was no need to give the same power to individuals. "We don't give people very many opportunities to sue everybody in the world when law enforcement doesn't do what they want them to do," he said.

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