SOPA foes warn: Not much time left to act

If you want to head off looming votes on the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate's Protect IP Act, act now, congressional foes of the proposals say.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
4 min read

Congressional foes of Hollywood-backed copyright legislation came to the Consumer Electronics Show today to warn technology companies that there's not much time left to derail the controversial proposals.

The remarks from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) were meant to deliver a blunt warning: if you were intending to do anything about proposals to levy the equivalent of a death penalty on allegedly piratical Web sites, now's the time.

Sen. Ron Wyden
Sen. Ron Wyden U.S. Senate

"This is a crucial window here for those who want to see the Net come out of this debate without this enormous collateral damage" caused by the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act, Wyden said this afternoon. "We are not prepared to say that this juggernaut for innovation and freedom and citizen empowerment, the Internet, ought to be dealt such a serious body blow in the name of copyright."

As CNET was the first to report last month, major Web companies have mulled blackouts--a kind of nuclear option--in advance of a Senate floor debate beginning January 24 on its Protect IP bill. A House Judiciary debate on SOPA is expected to resume soon as well.

A few Web sites have set the blackout date as January 18, when Issa, who has championed an alternative called the OPEN Act, will be holding a hearing where some of SOPA's critics are scheduled to testify.

Reddit, the source of plenty of anti-SOPA agitation, said yesterday that it would be "blacking out" its entire site for 12 hours. Errata Security will be following suit, at least symbolically.

Wikipedia may as well. Founder Jimmy Wales wrote today that:

I'm all in favor of it, and I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit. I'd like to talk to our government affairs advisor to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that's a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does (but in our own way of course) per the emerging consensus on how to do it, is a good idea. But that means we need to move forward quickly on a concrete proposal and vote - we don't have the luxury of time that we usually have, in terms of negotiating with each other for weeks about what's exactly the best possible thing to do. As I understand it, the [Wikimedia Foundation] is talking to people about how we can geolocate and guide people to their Congressperson, etc.

Any contact-your-congresscritters blackout will probably target U.S. senators first; large copyright holders have convinced 41 senators to sign up as co-sponsors of Protect IP, though 60 votes will be needed to overcome a promised filibuster from Wyden. In addition, only roughly a third of U.S. senators, including some co-sponsors are up for reelection this November.
Rep. Darrell Issa
Rep. Darrell Issa U.S. House of Representatives

Issa, who led opposition to SOPA during a House Judiciary committee debate last month, happens to be the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee. His hearing next week will include former Homeland Security policy chief Stewart Baker, security researcher Dan Kaminsky, and Leonard Napolitano of Sandia National Laboratories, all of whom have previously warned of SOPA's cybersecurity risks.

It would be the first hearing on how SOPA would actually work. The sole hearing so far, convened by SOPA author Lamar Smith of Texas, Hollywood's favorite House Republican, included mostly fans of the legislation and no technical experts.

"This should have been widely involved at every committee that looks at the Internet or commerce or trade," Issa said, adding that it was a failure of parliamentary procedure. "But it wasn't." (Issa said that Smith was preparing a newly-revised version of SOPA but had not circulated it; a spokesman for Smith's Judiciary committee did not immediately comment.)

Support for and opposition to SOPA and its Senate counterpart, Protect IP, doesn't follow traditional party lines: the conservative Heritage Foundation and House Budget chairman Paul Ryan joined the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in expressing concerns about delivering an Internet death penalty to allegedly piratical Web sites, which is what both bills would do. (See CNET's FAQ on SOPA.)

The pair of bills represent the latest effort from the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially offshore Web sites. They would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, Internet service providers, and other companies, forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site effectively vanish.