Critics will get a few more weeks to try to persuade members of the House Judiciary Committee to address concerns with legislation that would authorize new tools to crack down on piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites.
After spending a day and a half last week plowing through dozens of amendments to the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, the committee recessed the markup on Friday.
The panel had hoped to resume work on the bill on Wednesday, depending on the House schedule. But it finally released a statement Tuesday afternoon that work will have to wait most likely until next year, when Congress is expected to return from its holiday break.
“I’m still waiting for the first available day we are back, which is not going to be until the middle of January,” Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who wrote the legislation, told National Journal on Tuesday.
Some lawmakers want a hearing with Internet technical experts on the bill’s provision requiring Internet service providers to keep U.S. users from even getting to foreign websites engaged in piracy. They want to know how the provision would affect the integrity of the Internet and efforts to bolster the security of the domain name system. But Smith isn't sure what he'll do. “No decision yet,” Smith said. “We’re going back to markup regardless.”
Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Calif., was among those Judiciary members who have urged Smith to hold a hearing on the security of the Internet’s domain name system. Lungren, who also chairs the Homeland Security Cybersecurity Subcommittee, said he will likely seek a briefing through his panel with technical experts if Smith says no.
When House Judiciary meets again to finish its work on the bill, critics are expected to resume their efforts to amend it. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said on Tuesday that she and other opponents on the committee will continue trying to improve the bill. Lofgren and other critics say SOPA would stifle innovation, free speech, and the integrity and security of the Internet.
Meanwhile, the Senate is set to try to break the logjam on the issue in that chamber. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed a motion on Saturday to proceed to debate on the Senate Judiciary’s version of the online piracy legislation. The Senate will vote on Jan. 24.
The committee approved the Protect IP Act in May, but the bill has been blocked from moving to the Senate floor by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has voiced similar concerns about Protect IP as SOPA’s critics.
“I am pleased the majority leader has filed a motion to proceed to the PROTECT IP Act,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. “The costs of online infringement are American jobs, harm to America’s economy, and very real threats to consumers’ safety. The answer cannot simply be to do nothing. The Internet is a vibrant and free marketplace; it cannot be lawless.”
Lobbying on the legislation has been intense. Supporters of the legislation include major copyright industries such as the movie and music sectors as well as trademark owners and unions. They have been pushing lawmakers for two years to authorize new tools to combat online infringement on foreign websites.
On the other side of the debate is a coalition of some of the nation’s top tech firms, including eBay, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo, which have joined forces with venture capitalists and free-speech and privacy advocates to oppose the bill.
Supporters of the bill, however, are reaping the bigger benefit in terms of campaign dollars. A new analysis from MapLight, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group, found that movie, music, and TV entertainment industries have given four times as much to the sponsors of SOPA as software and Internet companies have given to congressional opponents of the bill.