One of the leading opponents of legislation to curb piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites said on Wednesday that he plans to introduce an alternative bill next week when the House returns from its holiday break.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told a news conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that he will introduce his draft bill on Tuesday. Issa’s measure is similar to one introduced last month by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who also spoke at the news conference.
Their legislation aims to counter a House bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and a bill approved in May by the Senate Judiciary Committee known as the Protect IP Act. Both bills aim to cut off funding and U.S. access to foreign websites that offer pirated content or counterfeit goods.
Issa, Wyden, and other critics say those bills will stifle innovation and free speech on the Internet and could undermine the security and integrity of the Internet’s domain-name system. “This is going to turn websites into web cops,” Wyden said.
The Issa-Wyden legislation focuses on cutting off funding to foreign infringing websites and would give responsibility for implementing the bill to the International Trade Commission instead of the Justice Department.
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, announced on Monday that his committee will hold a hearing next week on how proposals in both SOPA and Protect IP to block access to certain websites would affect “American cybersecurity, jobs, and the Internet community.” Issa and other critics have been urging House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to hold a hearing with technical experts to examine how SOPA might impact the integrity and security of the domain-name system. Smith has said he would consider such requests but hasn’t announced additional hearings on his bill.
House Judiciary began marking up SOPA in December but had to postpone final action when Congress recessed. Smith said before the break that he plans to resume the markup soon after the House returns next week.
Even though it appears that supporters have the votes to approve the bill in committee, Issa said on Wednesday that Smith has indicated he may offer other significant changes to SOPA but hasn’t been told what they are. Issa, however, said he wants to hear from technical experts at next week’s Oversight and Government Reform hearing who may have more insight on proposed fixes to SOPA.
Meanwhile, the Senate has scheduled a cloture vote for Jan. 24 on whether to allow Protect IP to come to the Senate floor for debate. Wyden, who has been blocking the bill from moving to the Senate floor since May, acknowledged he is facing an uphill fight but believes the momentum has shifted his way.
“A lot of senators are looking for a way to come up with an approach that doesn’t do so much damage to the Internet,” he said. But he added, “I’m not going to pretend this is a walk in the park. We’re up against some of the savviest, smartest” lobbying groups in Washington.
They include a broad coalition of movie studios, record companies, publishers, and trademark holders from a broad range of industries who say they need more tools to combat the growth in infringement on foreign websites. Supporters of SOPA and Protect IP argue that while additional changes may be necessary, some of the criticisms about the bill’s impact on free speech and innovation are overblown.
“The argument that publishers could possibly support a piece of legislation the main part of which would constitute a prior restraint on free expression is just ludicrous,” Association of American Publishers Vice President Allan Adler told National Journal on Wednesday.