Supporters of SOPA, PIPA Stick to Their Guns

Beleaguered supporters of two online antipiracy bills today downplayed widespread protests against the legislation and insisted the opposition is misguided and misinformed.

Supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act ( SOPA ) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) labeled today's protests by Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and others , as political stunts that contribute little to the debate around the pros and cons of the two bills.

One example is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been a vocal supporter of antipiracy legislation.

In a statement, Steve Tapp, the chamber's chief counsel on intellectual property, said the protest was unwarranted considering the changes that have already been made to both bills in response to concerns.

"The PROTECT IP Act and SOPA have been modified by their sponsors to address concerns by removing entirely the provision that would have required blocking of criminal sites," Tapp said. "Strangely, those who demanded that change are now shutting themselves down, although it is not clear why they are still protesting after they got what they wanted."

SOPA and PIPA are intended to give U.S copyright and IP owners better tools for going after rogue foreign sites which they contend are dedicated to copyright theft, patent infringement and counterfeiting.

Both bills have been watered down considerably since they were introduced. For instance, a controversial provision that would have required Internet service providers to conduct DNS (domain name system) blocking and filtering to block access to rogue foreign sites has been dropped from SOPA.

But critics contend that the bills, while well-intentioned, are still badly crafted and will affect legitimate U.S. websites as well as foreign sites.

One of the major fears is that SOPA and PIPA will force ISPs, search engine companies and other Internet intermediaries to become copyright cops on behalf of content owners.

There's also fear that the law will put pressure on ISPs and others to voluntarily block access to sites that are found to have infringed copyright and patent protection laws.

In addition, many are worried about a provision in SOPA that would essentially allow content owners to obtain unopposed court orders forcing online advertising networks and payment processors, such as MasterCard and PayPal, to shut off services to foreign sites that the content owners decide are infringing on their property.

Critics such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation contend that such measures will enable a sort of Internet censorship and prior restraint of free speech.

Supporters of the bill said that such concerns were based on misinformation.

"It's a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users and arm them with misinformation," said Jonathan Lamy, senior vice president of communications at the Recording Industry Association of America.

"It's time for the stunts to end and those who claim to care about rogue website theft to back up their rhetoric and work with us on meaningful solutions," Lamy said in an emailed statement.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) one of the sponsors of PIPA, said the continuing criticism of the bills despite the amendments was troubling.

"Much of what has been claimed about the Senate's Protect IP Act is flatly wrong and seems intended more to stoke fear and concern than to shed light or foster workable solutions," Leahy said in a statement.

"The PROTECT IP Act will not affect Wikipedia, will not affect Reddit, and will not affect any website that has any legitimate use," Leahy said. The bill is targeted only at foreign websites that have no real purpose other than infringement, theft and fraud, he said.

Senate supporters of PIPA insist that sites such as Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and Google , which have often been held up as examples of sites that could be affected by the bills, do not meet the bill's definition of a non-domestic domain. They insist that fears about PIPA's enabling content owners to take down entire Web domains are flat-out wrong.

It's too soon to say how today's protest will affect the hundreds of other organizations that have expressed their support for the legislation. For the moment at least, the bills' major sponsors have shown little indication that they will drop the legislation in the face of protests.

U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) lead sponsor of SOPA in the House, earlier this week said that a hearing will be held in February to mark up the bill and send it to the full House for further action.

Meanwhile, several lawmakers who previously expressed support for the bills have backed away from them. Since the protests began, five lawmakers have come out against the bills and have indicated they will not vote for the legislation without amendments.

See more on the controversy over SOPA .

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com .

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