Is SOPA Dead? 3

The story of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its sister act, Protect IP Act (PIPA) has been an intriguing and increasingly polarizing one. As Sarit wrote a few days ago, the increasing pressure from tech companies has forced the White House to come out against certain provisions, such as the DNS blocking provision in SOPA and other measures that would “tamper” with the underlying security measures of internet infrastructure.

Following this, Majority Leader of the House Eric Cantor announced yesterday that a vote on SOPA would not be held until there was “consensus” on the issue, indefinitely postponing further hearings. Many pundits have claimed victory over the bill, which would have had significant impacts on tech companies and given federal authorities great control over the accessibility of websites on the internet.

Nonetheless, several major websites including Wikipedia, reddit, and Mozilla are still planning to go ahead with a full site blackout (dubbed “The Internet Strike”) tomorrow (Jan 18) in protest of SOPA and related legislation. Despite the announcements that the bill would be shelved, critics refused to back down, and it appears that the proposed legislation has set into motion a series of events that cannot easily be stopped.

Many observers have noted that this is just one battle in an ongoing war between the entertainment lobby and the tech industry and consumers. Further, no announcement has been made by the Senate regarding PIPA, which is still scheduled for debate beginning on January 24. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) along with the Chamber of Commerce struck a conciliatory note yesterday, but still urged Congress to continue work on the bill.

Although the most controversial provisions have been dropped, it is still likely that the entertainment industry will get their wish, including tougher sanctions on linking to copyright infringing content and restrictions to the flow of digital information. The lobbyists supporting the bill have already spent over $2.5 million on the bill, and are outspending the tech lobby by more than a 3:1 ratio – it is not likely they will give up quickly.

For its part, dropping the issue temporarily may work for them in the long term if they make the appearance of addressing tech concerns, while re-introducing it following the upcoming Presidential election may allow it to fly under the radar. As for the politicians, neither Obama nor Romney (the presumptive leading Republican candidate right now) have “officially” come out against the bills. Reading between the lines of the White House press release, it appears they still support copyright legislation in principle, as long as there is more consultation and bipartisan support. Romney has been heard calling SOPA bad legislation, but he has for the most part dodged questions about it and has not released an official position supporting or not supporting it.

For the proposed reforms to be dropped entirely, much more pressure will be needed to sway the politicians in DC.

Update: Looks like SOPA hearings are scheduled to resume in February.

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