Home > entertainment, government, media, technology > About That Dwindling SOPA/PIPA Support, and an OPEN Alternative

About That Dwindling SOPA/PIPA Support, and an OPEN Alternative

Thursday, January 19, 2012, 18:10 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Yesteray’s internet protest was so effective that not only did several previous supporters of the “Stop Online Piracy Act” and “Protect IP Act” switch sides, but today an alternate bill was introduced in Congress. More on the newly proposed “Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade Act” later in this post. First, let’s take a look at the SOPA and PIPA situation, which is still somewhat fluid:

  • House sponsors of SOPA have included as many as 16 Democrats and 16 Republicans. Four of those Republicans and one Democrat have now dropped their support.
  • House opposition to SOPA now includes 46 Republicans and 43 Democrats.
  • Senate support of PIPA has included as many as 25 Democrats, 17 Republicans, and one Independent (who caucuses with the Democrats). Eight of those Republicans and two of the Democrats have now dropped their support.
  • Senate opposition to PIPA now includes six former Republican co-sponsors and one former Democratic co-sponsor.

These numbers are from a Wikipedia page which, as far as I can tell, accurately reflects the current positions of members and includes very recent (yesteray and today) defections from the supporters’ side.

I must say that I am heartened by the number of Republicans who have seen the light and dropped their support. Democratic supporters seem to be more stubborn, but that isn’t surprising given the heavy support the self-proclaimed “party of the people” gets from wealthy donors in the entertainment industry. Still, it couldn’t hurt to pressure more Democrats to turn.

It’s important to note that the SOPA, a vote on which has been indefinitely delayed in the House, could still come back. We can expect supporters to sit back and wait for Americans’ notoriously short memories to fade, then bring the legislation back, either unchanged or in a modified form. As for PIPA, a majority of Senators is not needed to kill the bill; 41 opponents can prevent a vote from taking place, thus winning by default.

In other words, we need to keep the heat on. The letters, calls, and emails to members shouldn’t stop now that the blackout is over. Indeed, the blackout was effective only because it prompted large numbers of voters to contact their Representative and Senators to express their opposition to these bills. We should continue to express our support and gratitude to those members who have come out in opposition to the legislation, besiege the proponents in an effort to turn them, and heavily lobby those whose position is unknown.

What about those of you who have never contacted your federal legislators? Your input can be especially effective. Make sure to mention at the beginning of your letter, email, or phone call that you have never contacted politician before but feel strongly about this issue. Nothing gets an elected official’s attention like previously unengaged constituents stirred to action for the first time.

If you don’t know whom to contact, it’s easy to find out. To get the name and contact info of your Representative in the House, go to the House web site and enter your zip code. To find your two Senators, go to the Senate web site and choose your state from the drop-down box.

To learn more about what SOPA would do and how, check out this infographic. This article provides additional information.

Would the “Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade Act” (OPEN) introduced today be any better? I’m not sure, but it’s worth looking into. According to the linked article:

The main difference between OPEN and the other two bills that have caused such a furor of criticism is that OPEN fundamentally differs on which government agency should be responsible for fighting online piracy and how it should go about it.

SOPA and PIPA are written to give the U.S. Attorney General the power to seek court orders to take-down foreign websites when those websites are accused of piracy by copyright holders, like Hollywood and the recording industry.

Once a foreign website is accused of piracy under SOPA and PIPA, all U.S. websites and companies are forced to sever ties with it — removing links and stopping payment processing and advertising with them. That could mean the removal of links from Google, Facebook and Twitter, including those posted by users.

The OPEN Act differs in that it would make the International Trade Commission (ITC) the agency responsible for fighting online piracy. The ITC already handles all cases involving foreign imports that are accused of copyright infringement, so it would seem a more natural fit for dealing with foreign websites, according to [Rep. Daniel] Issa [(R-CA)] and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), the bill’s other main co-sponsor.

Under OPEN, once the ITC receives a complaint that a foreign website contained pirated material, it would be obligated to notify the website of the complaint — a key provision missing from SOPA, where no notification is required.

Further, if the ITC decides a complaint was legitimate, the agency could only force U.S. advertisers and payment companies to cut-off business with the foreign website, NOT search engines or Internet Service Providers, as had previously been required by both SOPA and PIPA. The OPEN Act also narrows the definition of what can websites can be targeted, saying that only those foreign sites that have “a limited purpose” aside from piracy or are clear piracy centers can be considered.

That sounds like a big improvement on the surface, but as usual, read a draft of the bill to see if it says what Issa and Wyden say it says. I’ll have more comments once I have a chance to do so.

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