Although supporters have vowed to try to find a way to move the issue forward, Friday’s decision by Senate and House leaders to postpone action on controversial legislation that would have curbed piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites may have shelved the measures for the year.
Following a week of collapsing congressional support for the Senate’s Protect IP Act and the House’s Stop Online Piracy bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., postponed Tuesday’s scheduled cloture vote on the Senate bill and House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said he would do the same with his version, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. House Judiciary began marking up SOPA in December but never finished work on the bill.
Congress backed off the legislation after an unprecedented online protest on Jan. 18 by thousands of websites and millions of Internet users that catapulted the debate onto the national stage. The legislation’s opponents, which include top Internet firms such as Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, argued that Protect IP and SOPA would chill online innovation and free speech and could harm the integrity and security of the Internet.
While cheering their success in effectively killing SOPA and Protect IP for now, opponents of those bills agree that online piracy is a problem. They instead want lawmakers to move forward on alternative legislation offered by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., known as the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act. The OPEN Act takes a follow-the-money approach by authorizing content owners to bring complaints to the International Trade Commission, which could order online advertisers and payment processors to stop doing business with foreign websites that offer pirated music, movies, and other content or counterfeit goods.
So far, content-industry representatives have given little indication that they would be willing to back the OPEN Act, and no action has been scheduled on the legislation in either chamber. “We would be worse off with the OPEN Act than we are today,” said Recording Industry Association of America Senior Executive Vice President Mitch Glazier.
Issa’s bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Ways and Means committees and the Senate Finance Committee. Smith, who wrote SOPA, has dismissed Issa’s bill, saying it “may in fact make it harder to enforce IP rights.” As chairman of the Finance International Trade Subcommittee, Wyden is in a better position to push the OPEN Act in the Senate.
Despite their setbacks, Smith and other supporters of SOPA and Protect IP are not giving up altogether. “The committee will continue work with both copyright owners and Internet companies to develop proposals that combat online piracy and protect America’s intellectual property,” Smith said.
This article appears in the Jan. 23, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.