White House Concerned Over Online Piracy Bills

Liana Teixeira

After nationwide protests and the inability to reach a compromise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has decided to postpone the Senate’s

Nationwide protests across the nation show exactly how unpopular the proposed Piracy Bills are.

vote on online piracy.

The vote, which was scheduled for last Tuesday, would have addressed the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).  Both pieces of legislation, if passed, would make it more difficult for websites to access and distribute copyrighted materials such as movies and music.

Additionally, the U.S. government would have the power to shut down any website associated with piracy.  According to Forbes.com, the bills would also require websites to delete links to infringing websites and allow the U.S. Attorney General to seek court orders against websites, preventing them and their subscribers from accessing infringing sites.

One proposed way of ensuring this was to cut the DNS (domain name server) link to illegal sites.  This greatly differs from an existing law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) which only requires website operators to remove specific illegal content.  However, security experts and the White House expressed that attacking the entire domain could “disrupt the underlying architecture of the Internet.”  It was later agreed that the DNS provision within the bills would be removed.

“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,’’ the White House said.

Proponents argue that the bills protect the information and property of websites and enforce the use of U.S. copyright laws.  However, opponents claim that the bills would infringe upon the First Amendment right to free speech and allow the government to unfairly censor materials they deem illegal.

To protest the bills, thousands of websites recently participated in a 24-hour blackout period.  Participants included Wikipedia, Flickr, Mozilla, Wired, Reddit, and Google.  If anyone accessed the Google website during this time, the black square covering their logo would lead to an online petition against the SOPA and PIPA bills.  Over seven million people signed the petition, reports BBC.com.

This collective protest indeed left congressional legislators and sponsors torn on the issue as well.  The blackout and other protests seem to have shifted support away from the bills.  A tally provided by ProPublica.org shows that at the beginning of Jan. 18, there were 80 supporters of the bills and only 31 opposed in Congress.  Merely a day later, Jan.19, there were only 63 supporters and 122 opposed.

Several new members of the opposition include key Republican senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Roy Blunt of Missouri.  Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) also withdrew their sponsorships.  Moreover, all four GOP presidential candidates announced that they also oppose the bills.

Mitt Romney, in particular, surprised many when he called the bill a threat to freedom of speech, reports ReadWriteWeb.com.  SOPA was written by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), who was one of Romney’s biggest endorsers for presidency in October.  “The truth of the matter is the law as written is far too intrusive, far too expansive,” Romney said. “It would have a depressing impact on one of the fastest growing industries… I’m standing for freedom.”

Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum all provided separate statements regarding the bills.  Gingrich agreed that a bill that censors the Internet is wrong, while Paul corroborated Romney’s position that SOPA and PIPA threaten freedom.

“The Internet is not somewhere ‘where anyone can do anything they want,’” Santorum said to ReadWriteWeb.com.

The many legislators that are left undecided on the SOPA and PIPA bills will have a little more time to determine their vote now that the Senate has postponed the voting indefinitely, and possibly consider an alternative bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives following the Internet blackout.

Introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act would allow copyright holders to file complaints to the U.S. Trade Commission regarding copyright infringement on websites.  The Commission would then investigate the matter and decide whether funding for the website should be cut.  This differs from the SOPA bill which would require websites to stop providing links to infringing websites altogether, and stop doing business with such websites as well.

White House officials assured that it would not support legislation that “reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the global Internet,” reports the Washington Times. Obama administration and the White House, meanwhile, remain concerned about the language of the SOPA and PIPA laws, but will continue their efforts to find efficient ways of combating online piracy.