Worst of SOPA out, White House bolsters opposition

ISP blocking provision to be removed; Lawmakers say ‘consensus’ needed

While it's far too early for SOPA opponents to declare victory, a trio of developments late last night and this morning make clear that concerted efforts to block or dramatically alter this ill-conceived antipiracy legislation are having a significant effect.

(Pics of near-riot, egging of Apple store in China)

Those developments:

  • A pledge by the bill's lead sponsor to remove its most controversial provision, which would require ISPs to block access to foreign websites that contain copyright-infringing content, an undertaking critics say would undermine the Internet's DNS and DNSSEC systems.
  • A statement from the White House responding to an online petition that appears far more sympathetic to the concerns of SOPA opponents than to the need to pass antipiracy legislation quickly.
  • And, word that Republican leadership has pledged to delay any vote in the House so that lawmakers may "continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus."

From an IDG News Service story on our site:

Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, said he will remove the ISP provision from the bill, called SOPA, so that lawmakers can "further examine the issues surrounding this provision."

The ISP provision in SOPA allows the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring service providers to block subscriber access to foreign sites accused by the DOJ of copyright infringement. That provision would be removed, but remaining in the bill would be provisions allowing the DOJ to seek court orders requiring search engines to remove links to sites accused of infringement and requiring online advertising networks and payment processors to stop doing business with the accused sites.

The ISP blocking provision in SOPA could lead to cybersecurity problems as Web users attempt to bypass the blocks, opponents have said. The bill could also lead to legitimate speech being blocked, opponents have said.

While the White House statement stopped short of pledging that President Obama would veto SOPA should it pass, it make clear the Administration has embraced many of the opponents' central concerns. From a White House blog post:

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.

 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. Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected. To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity. Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.

We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose 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.

Finally, a key Republican opponent of the bill says this morning that he has been told by his party's leadership that they have gotten the message. From a report on The Hill:

House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said early Saturday morning that Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) promised him the House will not vote on the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) unless there is consensus on the bill.

"While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act, I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House," Issa said in a statement.  "Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote."

It wasn't that long ago that this legislation appeared fast-tracked for House approval and there was little reason to believe the White House would stand in its way.

That has very much changed for the better.

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