U.S. anti-piracy bill delayed after stirring controversy

Controversial online copyright enforcement bill the Stop Online Piracy Act may be stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives as lawmakers try to iron out a compromise, an opponent of the legislation said.

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said he’s beenassured by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor that SOPA will not moveforward unless consensus is reached.

“Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continueto work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensusprior to any anti-piracy legislation comingbefore the House for a vote,” Issa said. “The voice of the Internetcommunity has been heard. Much more education for Members of Congressabout the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracylegislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal.”

A spokeswoman for Cantor declined to comment. A spokeswoman forRepresentative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and chief sponsor ofSOPA, said Monday she does not believe Cantor has made a public commentabout delaying SOPA.

Issa also announced that a Wednesday hearing on SOPA’s impact on cybersecurity has been postponed,following a decision by Smith to take out a provision affecting the domain-name system. Smithannounced Friday that he would take out a portion of SOPA that wouldallow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiringU.S. Internet service providers toblock subscriber access to foreign Web sites accused of infringingcopyright.

Senate vote imminent
The U.S. Senate is scheduled to begin voting on a similar bill, theProtect IP Act, on Jan. 24.

“Although SOPA, despite the removal of this provision, is still afundamentally flawed bill, I have decided that postponing the scheduledhearing on DNS blocking with technical experts is the best course ofaction at this time,” said Issa, who is pushing for an alternate bill,called the OPEN Act. “Right now, the focus of protecting the Internetneeds to be on the Senate where Majority Leader Reid has announced hisintention to try to move similar legislation in less than two weeks.”

Also on Friday, three officials in President Barack Obama’sadministration issuedan inconclusive statement on SOPA after two online petitionscalled on the president to veto the bill.

The White House statement called on “all sides to work together to passsound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rightsholders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S.borders.” The statement was signed by Victoria Espinel, the White Houseenforcement coordinator, Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. federal CTO, andHoward Schmidt, the cybersecurity coordinator for the Obamaadministration.

But the statement called for legislation that does not create newcybersecurity risks or limit freedom of expression. “Any effort tocombat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorshipof lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamicbusinesses large and small,” the White House said.

Wishy washy White House statement
The statement did not directly say whether the White House opposes SOPAor PIPA.

Critics of SOPA say it would create cybersecurity problems, inhibitfree speech and hurt innovation. The bill would allow the DOJ to seekcourt orders requiring online advertising networks andpayment processors to stop doing business with foreignWeb sites accused of infringing copyrights. The DOJ could alsoseek court orders requiring search engines to stop linking to theaccused sites, and it would allow private copyright owners to seekcourt orders against ad networks and payment processors.

But Smith, the SOPA sponsor, said SOPA meets the White Houserequirements. He welcomed the announcement that “the White House willsupport legislation to combat online piracy that protects free speech,the Internet and America’s intellectual property,” he said ina statement. “That’s precisely what the Stop Online Piracy Act does.”

SOPA is targeted at illegal activity not protected under free speechrights, he said. Critics have said the blocking of Web sitescould lead to the censorship of protected speech on parts of the sitesthat are blocked.

How piracy hurts innovation
In addition, SOPA helps innovation, Smith said. “The problem of onlinepiracy discourages innovation because it steals the products andprofits that rightly belong to American innovators,” he said. “Lawfuland legitimate companies should not have to compete with foreignthieves that steal their intellectual property.”

Opponents of SOPA, including Public Knowledge and NetCoalition, alsoapplauded the White House statement.

The White House statement highlighted its “serious concerns” with SOPAand PIPA, said Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition.”We appreciate the administration’s recognition that our ability toinnovate, invest, and grow the economy is dependent upon keeping theInternet open and free.”

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