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SOPA vote: Well, there's always next year

What supporters of SOPA had hoped would be speedy committee approval took a porn-and-Twitter detour through dozens of amendments. The result: A reprieve for Internet companies.

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
3 min read

A marathon congressional hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act, which detoured through discussions of Twitter-borne insults and the popular meme "The Internet is for Porn," was expected to resume sometime in 2012.

But Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, said this afternoon on Twitter that the hearing will continue Wednesday morning -- but only if the U.S. House of Representatives is in session.

Any delay represents a victory for opponents of SOPA, who pulled off a quasi-filibuster by repeatedly presenting critiques of the controversial Hollywood-backed copyright legislation and offering over 70 amendments that sought to rewrite individual portions of the bill.

Rep. Jared Polis, who entered the complete lyrics of "The Internet is for Porn" into the official record of the SOPA debate
Rep. Jared Polis, who entered the complete lyrics of "The Internet is for Porn" into the official record of the SOPA debate U.S. House of Representatives

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the head of the House Judiciary committee chairman and author of SOPA -- also known as Hollywood's favorite House Republican -- initially had promised to hold a final vote on his bill as soon as possible.

"Yes, I have every intention of going forward today, tomorrow, and however long it takes," Smith said yesterday.

But Smith's plan was derailed by a dogged group of opponents, who managed to pull off this legislative upset even though they were badly outnumbered on the committee by allies of the Motion Picture Association, the Recording Industry Association of America, and other SOPA proponents. (See CNET's FAQ on SOPA.)

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who represents part of Silicon Valley, launched the first procedural fusillade as soon as the hearing began yesterday by insisting on her right to have the entire text of SOPA read aloud by the committee's clerk.

An unhappy Smith said that the reading "will take 45 minutes to an hour."

Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat whose district is adjacent to Hollywood, asked Smith if "a motion to dispense with the reading is in order."

"Such a motion regrettably is not in order," Smith replied, and the markup session ground to a halt for an hour.

After nearly 12 hours of debate in which both sides seemed to be repeating themselves more often than not, Smith reluctantly adjourned yesterday's session until 10 a.m. ET today. Meanwhile, his plans for an accelerated vote, without convening even one hearing exploring SOPA's technical aspects, slammed into an unexpected obstacle: a last-minute deal on a spending bill to fund the federal government through September 2012. The House approved it today.

Nobody else in Washington, D.C., except perhaps the large copyright holders who helped to advance SOPA so far so quickly, wanted to stick around any longer on a Friday afternoon in December. Smith eventually recognized the obvious and said: "We stand adjourned."

One bizarre detour came when Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), was, perhaps, a bit too honest in assessing one of his colleague's presenting style. King tweeted: "We are debating the Stop Online Piracy Act and Shiela Jackson [sic] has so bored me that I'm killing time by surfing the Internet."

That would be Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas Democrat named the "meanest" member of Congress by Washingtonian magazine in 2010, who responded by calling the tweet "offensive." The debate about the future of Internet copyright law paused to discuss the important question of whether who, if anyone, had impugned the integrity of a member of the committee and how it could be rectified.

The second unusual detour came when Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who presumably knows his way around the Internet better than any other member of Congress (he founded BlueMountainArts.com), brought up pornography.

A "high percentage" of the Internet's use is for porn, he said. It's "a pornographer's wet dream!"

Polis suggested an amendment, perhaps not seriously, that would curb SOPA's use to police pirated porn sites. Smith opposed it and it was defeated by a vote of 9 to 18. (See CNET's separate article on the SOPA porn amendment.)

Last updated at 3:45 p.m. PT