Despite securing major concessions from the sponsors of two controversial bills aimed at curbing piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites, critics of the legislation said on Tuesday that they still have problems and will be pushing for additional changes when the Senate takes up its bill next week.
In recent days the chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary committees agreed to drop the most controversial provision in the legislation — language that would require service providers and others to block U.S. users from accessing foreign websites that offer pirated music, movies, and other content or counterfeit drugs and other goods.
With website-blocking proposals being dropped, the remaining provisions should be relatively uncontroversial, said Steve Tepp, chief intellectual property counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center, which has been leading a broad coalition in support of the legislation. “What we’re left with is a targeted, narrowly tailored bill that addresses the worst of the worst,” he said during a discussion at the annual State of the Net conference.
Critics argue that the Web-blocking provisions in the House bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and the Senate’s Protect IP Act, could stifle the integrity and security of the Internet. But they also expressed concern about overly broad definitions in the bills; language giving copyright and trademark holders authority to bring lawsuits against third parties who provide services to infringing websites; and a provision giving Internet service providers, online-advertising providers and payment processors protection against liability if they take action against foreign infringers.
“If you have the ability to defund a site or remove its ability to host ads or get payments, that is an incredible amount of power someone can have over a website,” Public Knowledge Deputy Legal Director Sherwin Siy said in a conference call on Tuesday with other critics of the bill.
They are focusing their immediate attention on the Senate, which has scheduled a Jan. 24 vote on whether to end debate on the Protect IP Act, which has been blocked by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., from moving to the floor since it was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. Critics of the legislation got some high-profile help over the weekend when the White House voiced concern over several provisions in the House and Senate online-piracy bills.
And on Friday, some key GOP members of the Judiciary Committee, which approved the bill without dissent, wrote Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., urging him not to bring the bill to the floor, saying there are still significant issues that need to be addressed.
Despite this, Reid said he plans to move ahead with next week’s vote. Reid, however, said he has urged Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to work on an amendment that attempts to address some remaining issues with the measure. “The PROTECT IP Act, as reported out of the Judiciary Committee, is not perfect,” Reid wrote the GOP senators on Friday. “Sen. Leahy publicly committed to significantly amending the bill, and I urge him and Sen. [Chuck] Grassley, R-Iowa, to continue making improvements before the full Senate considers it.”
In the House, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., one of the bill’s leading congressional critics, said over the weekend that he is postponing a hearing set for Wednesday to examine how SOPA would affect the Internet, particularly efforts to bolster the security of the Internet’s domain-name system. He made the move after House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said he would remove the website-blocking provision from his bill following a similar announcement from Leahy. Still, Issa on Tuesday agreed with other critics bill who say there are still problems with the legislation. “Other elements [in the bill] go inherently further than are needed to go if you are going to stop rampant piracy,” Issa said at a Capitol Hill briefing.
Issa said he has been assured by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., that he will not move SOPA to the House floor until there is more consensus.
The House Judiciary Committee began marking up SOPA in December but postponed final action on the measure until the House returned from its winter break. Smith said on Tuesday that he plans to resume work in February, but didn't give a specific date.