By Catharine Smith
Saturday marked a major victory for opponents of proposed anti-piracy legislation Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), which would target foreign-based websites violating U.S. copyrights.
House of Representatives bill SOPA and its Senate counterpart PIPA are designed to punish websites that make available, for example, free movies and music without the permission of the U.S. rights holders. Opponents of the bills, however, worry that the proposed laws would grant the Department of Justice too much regulatory power. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has called the measures “draconian.” Other Internet giants who oppose the bill include Facebook, eBay, Mozilla, Twitter, and Huffington Post parent company AOL.
The White House on Saturday officially responded to two online petitions, “Stop the E-PARASITE Act” and “Veto the SOPA bill and any other future bills that threaten to diminish the free flow of information,” urging the President to reject SOPA and PIPA.
The statement was drawn up by Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff. They made clear that the White House will not support legislation that disrupts the open standards of the Internet.
“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” the statement read in part.
The White House statement went on to say, however, that the Obama Administration believes “online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy” and that 2012 should see the passage of narrower legislation that targets the source of foreign copyright infringement.
The letter also highlighted the following four points:
Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small. […] We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. […] That is why the Administration calls on all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders […] We expect and encourage all private parties, including both content creators and Internet platform providers working together, to adopt voluntary measures and best practices to reduce online piracy.
This is not the end of the debate, the White House statement emphasized. “Moving forward, we will continue to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis on legislation that provides new tools needed in the global fight against piracy and counterfeiting, while vigorously defending an open Internet based on the values of free expression, privacy, security and innovation,” the letter also read.
Following the release of the White House’s statement, SOPA sponsor and House Judiciary Chairman (R-Texas) Lamar Smith issued a statement of his own.
“I welcome today’s announcement that the White House will support legislation to combat online piracy that protects free speech, the Internet and America’s intellectual property,” Smith said,according to The Hill. “That’s precisely what the Stop Online Piracy Act does.”
On Friday, CNET reported that Smith said he will remove from the bill one of the most hotly contested provisions, Domain Name System requirements. Previously, SOPA had called for DNS blocking of infringing websites.
On Thursday, PIPA author Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said that “more study” was needed to asses the bill’s DNS-blocking provision, the Wall Street Journal wrote.
The White House’s statement condemned DNS blocking in regulatory efforts and said that it “pose[s]a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk.”
A House Oversight Committee hearing on SOPA’s DNS-blocking provision had previously been scheduled for January 18. However, according to Tech Dirt, Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-California) said that the hearing will be postponed for the time being and that the focus now should be placed on the Senate’s PIPA bill, which Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has committed to moving forward in the next two weeks.
UPDATE: The Motion Picture Association of America Inc. (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have each released a response to the White House’s position on SOPA and PIPA.
Michael O’Leary, Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs for the MPAA said the following in a statement emailed to the HuffPost:
While we agree with the White House that protection against online piracy is vital, that protection must be meaningful to protect the people who have been and will continue to be victimized if legislation is not enacted. Meaningful legislation must include measured and reasonable remedies that include ad brokers, payment processors and search engines. They must be part of a solution that stops theft and protects American consumers. […] On behalf of the 2.2 million Americans whose jobs depend on the film and television industries, we look forward to the Administration playing a constructive role in this process and working with us to pass legislation that will offer real protection for American jobs.
In the same email, Mitch Glazier, Senior Executive Vice President of the RIAA, said, “[L]egislation is of no benefit, nor will we support it, if it allows the leading Internet companies to direct law abiding consumers to unlawful and dangerous sites.”
David Hirschmann, President and CEO of the Global Intellectual Property Center at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, reiterated the Chamber’s strong support for both SOPA and PIPA. “The Administration’s main concern, centered on DNS issues, has already been addressed by both Senator Leahy and Representative Smith. We also applaud Senator Reid, Senator Leahy, and Representative Smith for their commitment to move forward with pending legislation through an open and bipartisan process,” Hirschmann said.