US Congress may not have stomach for another SOPA

The massive online protests from a year ago have stuck in the minds of lawmakers

As a new session of the U.S. Congress convenes in early 2013, don't expect lawmakers to rush out a new version of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) or the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

While some groups representing copyright holders still want to see stronger online enforcement, U.S. lawmakers don't seem to have the collective will to reintroduce similar bills and potentially face another massive online protest. In January 2012, more than 10 million Web users signed petitions, 8 million attempted calls to Congress and 4 million sent email messages, and more than 100,000 websites went dark in protest as the Senate scheduled a vote on PIPA.

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Lawmakers supporting the two bills baled out in droves, Senate leaders cancelled the PIPA vote, and SOPA's sponsor in the House of Representatives withdrew his legislation.

"That was an avalanche they've never seen," said Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, a trade group that had opposed the two bills. "They're going to tiptoe in this area very carefully."

In Black's recent conversations, lawmakers have expressed wariness about moving forward on copyright enforcement legislation, he said. Even stripped down versions of the bills, affecting only advertisers and payment processors doing business with suspected infringing websites, are likely nonstarters, he said.

Early versions of SOPA and PIPA would have allowed the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement to order domain-name registrars to stop providing service and search engines to stop linking to websites accused of online piracy and counterfeiting U.S. products. The court orders requested by the two agencies would have targeted online advertisers and payment processors as well.

Nearly a year after the online protests, a spokeswoman for Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and main sponsor of SOPA, said he has no plans to reintroduce similar legislation in 2013. Smith will defer to Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican replacing Smith as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, she said.

Goodlatte, a long-time member of the Congressional Internet Caucus, was an original cosponsor of SOPA. He wasn't available for comment on his plans for the next Congress.

A spokeswoman for Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and main sponsor of PIPA, also didn't respond to a request for comments on his plans for PIPA. Leahy recently turned down the opportunity to be chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee to return as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he will again have jurisdiction over copyright issues.

The spokesman for another lawmaker who opposed SOPA said he sees little momentum for similar legislation in 2013.

Meanwhile, a representative of the Recording Industry Association of America, which pushed for passage of the two bills, said the trade group's focus will be elsewhere moving forward.

"The music business now earns more than half its revenues from an exciting array of digital formats," Jonathan Lamy, an RIAA spokesman, said in an email.A "Our core mission is promoting that dynamic marketplace.A Beyond that, our attention will be entirely focused on music licensing issues and voluntary, marketplace initiatives."

Opponents of the two bills are looking to engage the public in a dialog about copyright in the coming year, said Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, a digital rights group. and OpenCongress.org, a congressional watchdog site.

In November, the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative House Republicans, first published, then retracted, a paper advocating the weakening of some copyright protections, Cheng noted.

"It seems like the SOPA protests and blackout has created an opening for a discussion on copyright reform," she said by email. "We'll be working with groups and the public on a plan in 2013. We're glad there is an opportunity."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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