Although the White House this weekend expressed "serious reservations" about elements of the pending anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA, and House leaders have said they will not conduct hearings on their bill any time soon, the legislation is far from dead. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said this weekend that he hopes to open debate on the Senate's version later this month. And House sponsor Lamar Smith said he will continue work on that chamber's version. Internet protests planned for tomorrow, in which some of the Web's largest sites will go offline for 24 hours, are expected to go ahead as scheduled.
The two bills—the House version is known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Senate's is the Protect IP Act (PIPA)—have been under fire from consumer groups and Internet rights activists for months. Although the bills are ostensibly designed to protect the intellectual property of American publishers and manufacturers, opponents say they are so broadly written that they could limit the free exchange of information on the Internet, harm consumer rights, and undermine Internet security standards. In a letter to Congress in November, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, and U.S. PIRG said SOPA "could close off online exchanges that provide lower prices for consumers; reduce online security, and allow for anti-consumer practices by online service providers."
Many of the concerns expressed by opponents have been over language in the bills that would have allowed websites to be blocked through manipulation of the Domain Name System, which keeps track of website addresses. In a statement, the White House warned that "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." Sponsors in the House and Senate have been working to strip DNS-related language from their bills.
The White House also warned that "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."
We want to take this opportunity to tell you what the Administration will support—and what we will not support. Any effective legislation should reflect a wide range of stakeholders, including everyone from content creators to the engineers that build and maintain the infrastructure of the Internet.
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.
Major websites that plan to go dark to protest the legislation include Wikipedia, which has over 25 million daily visitors. In a tweet, founder Jimmy Wales stated simply: "Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!"
Consumers Union, the public policy arm of Consumer Reports, believes the White House is on the right track. "We think that the White House raised appropriate concerns and we hope that legislators address those concerns," said Parul Desai, communications policy counsel. "I think this is still an issue that consumers should be paying attention to. It sounds like there's a willingness by lawmakers to work together and achieve an appropriate balance. We believe there are still issues that they should look at."
If you'd like to show your opposition to SOPA and PIPA, you can write to your representatives using this form provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Obama Administration Responds to We the People Petitions on SOPA and Online Piracy [The White House]
How PIPA and SOPA Violate White House Principles Supporting Free Speech and Innovation [Electronic Frontier Foundation]
Web Goes On Strike [Strike Against SOPA]
The Stop Online Piracy Act Goes Too Far & Could Hurt Consumers - The Consumerist [Letter from Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America and U.S. PIRG]