Late on Friday night, the White House released a statement announcing that it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” That’s a huge shift, and it came in response to a petition asking President Obama to veto the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, which would give content providers sweeping new tools to crack down on copyright infringement. True, the White House statement doesn’t oppose SOPA directly, but it’s a fairly clear condemnation of the flaws critics have pointed to in the bill. (See here for a basic rundown of what SOPA is, and why it’s generated so much controversy.)
It’s also a sign that momentum on online-piracy legislation is shifting dramatically. Just six months ago, these bills seemed all but inevitable. The Senate version of SOPA, the Protect IP Act, was being held up by one lonely senator, Ron Wyden, and most of the bill’s backers were confident of eventual passage. But critics and tech exports started pointing out that these bills could impinge on free speech and disrupt the workings of the Internet. Online communities like Tumblr and Reddit organized loud, boisterous, and often clever campaigns — the document-sharing site Scribd, for instance, made a billion pages vanish to protest the bill — and public opinion swung sharply. A Reddit campaign managed to persuade Paul Ryan to oppose the bill, for instance.
As a result, even the most ardent backers of the bill are now softening their support. Sen. Pat Leahy, a key sponsor of the Protect IP Act, has conceded that more study is needed for the provisions that would allow rogue sites to be delisted from the Domain Name Service (basically the Internet’s phone directory). Critics have warned that mucking with DNS could splinter the architecture of the Internet.
In the House, meanwhile, SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) has said he’d remove the DNS-blocking provisions from his bill outright, pending further review. And last week, six Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee also wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking for more time to study the Protect IP Act. (It’s currently slated for consideration Jan. 24.)
Now, that doesn’t mean these bills, or their most controversial features, are dead and buried. Leahy, for one, was pretty clear that still supports passing a bill with DNS-blocking — he just thinks that feature should be studied carefully before it actually gets implemented. (As TechDirt’s Michael Masnick points out, that sounds like a compelling reason to slow down and reconsider before passing the bill, rather than enacting a provision that lawmakers don’t fully understand.)
Still, the momentum does seem to be shifting. Reddit and Wikipedia are planning to go dark this Wednesday in an attempt to raise awarenesss and put even more pressure on lawmakers. Right now, the main alternative to SOPA and Protect IP is a bill backed by Wyden and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that would focus on curbing the flow of money to foreign sites dedicated to copyright infringement, but would be considerably narrower. You can read about the pros and cons of that bill here.
Related: Everything you need to know about SOPA, in one post.
Tech at Night: Eric Cantor: SOPA’s dead.
SOPA is dead in the House, says Majority Leader Eric Cantor, until there is consensus. Since there’s never going to be consensus on Internet censorship, Cantor seems to be saying the issue’s dead in this Congress.
The President went mushy on SOPA, Harry Reid and Senate Democrats decided to push forward, but Eric Cantor, Darrell Issa, and House Republicans want to kill the bill. That’s a clear, bright line, folks.
Turns out primary threats matter more than vague protests.
Hey, if Rupert Murdoch wants to hold Google accountable for every search result, then let’s come after Rupert Murdoch for every classified ad ever run in any of his newspapers, eh? Have any ‘pirates’ ever advertised there? Massage parlors? Other lawbreakers? Betcha they have.
And I bet Google hasn’t hacked anybody’s phones. Or committed perjury before British inquiries related to those phone hackings, like James Murdoch and British elements of the News Corp. empire have. Oops.
If the FCC doesn’t like Republican efforts to constrain their freedom of action on spectrum, it’s their own fault for creating that mistrust that now exist. Nobody believes Julius Genachowski has any intent to obey the law. He thinks he’s above the law.
SOPA is a Red Herring
We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.
In this future, individuals and businesses can quickly and easily obtain the tools necessary to set up their own presence online; domain names and addresses are available, secure, and properly maintained, without onerous licenses or unreasonable disclosures of personal information.