The House Judiciary Committee spent all day on Thursday slowly working its way through dozens of amendments to legislation targeting foreign websites that offer pirated content and counterfeit goods. And they were not cheerful about it.
Opponents of the bipartisan legislation, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, crafted by Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, lined up more than 60 amendments to the bill. Debate on the measure looked like it could spill into a second day. Several members who have concerns with the bill urged Smith to suspend the markup and hold another hearing with technical experts who can analyze the bill’s potential impact on the domain-name system.
The committee rejected amendments from Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., to remove or weaken provisions in the bill that would require search engines and service providers to block access to sites that offer pirated content or counterfeit goods.
“Once you say we’ll cut off links … once you become very China-esque, what you end up doing is you start a snowball effect,” Issa said.
Issa, Lofgren, and other critics agree that online piracy and counterfeiting are serious problems, but they worry about the bill’s impact on the integrity of the Internet, free speech, innovation, and efforts to enhance the security of the domain-name system. Leading tech companies including Facebook, Google, and Twitter oppose the bill, as do Internet engineers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and privacy and free-speech advocates. They back alternative draft legislation authored by Issa and others that focuses primarily on cutting off funding to infringing foreign websites.
Supporters of Smith’s bill, however, noted that the issues the bill deals with have been debated for more than a year both in the House and the Senate, where that chamber’s Judiciary Committee approved similar legislation in May. And Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said that the measure is endorsed by some Internet-service providers, including members of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which have a strong interest in ensuring the integrity of the Internet.
This has “been discussed, written about, and talked about for years,” Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., said.
The legislation would give the attorney general authority to seek a court order that could require payment processors and online advertisers to stop doing business with sites “primarily dedicated to illegal or infringing activity.” It would bar search engines from returning results for such sites. The bill would also allow a court to order service providers to block U.S. users from accessing such sites.
Support and criticism of the legislation is bipartisan. Nonetheless, the markup session got tense during the day-long debate and crossed into partisan waters when Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, objected to a tweet from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who also sits on the committee but was not in the hearing room at the time. He chirped that he was bored by Jackson Lee’s remarks. She said the tweet was offensive and skirmished with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who called for her comments to be stricken from the record. Jackson Lee eventually backed off and the panel got back to its work.
This article appears in the Dec. 16, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily.