SOPA, PIPA Opponents Prepare for Capitol Hill Piracy Showdown

Competing visions for how to address overseas copyright infringement will take center stage in Washington.

By Kenneth Corbin
Mon, January 16, 2012

CIO — Opponents of controversial anti-piracy legislation are gearing up for a major fight in both the House and the Senate as they press for support for an alternative bill they say would avoid draconian measures that, if enacted, could create major security vulnerabilities in the architecture of the Internet.

The two lawmakers leading the charge, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), took to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week to press their case — a fitting setting, as the mammoth trade show gives an annual coming out party for tech firms' latest innovations. The trade group that puts on the show, the Consumer Electronics Association, has been a vocal member of the lobbying efforts to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the Senate version, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), both of which the organization argues would impose dramatic limits on online innovation by exposing Web firms to excessive legal liability in the name of curbing piracy.

"We have been teaming up on this and have been working on this for some time," Wyden said of his partnership with Issa, who in turn added that the two "in many ways are not predictable partners."

Wyden and Issa are backing an alternative anti-piracy bill, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, a measure they say would create a more effective path for copyright holders to protect their intellectual property from foreign websites that profit from piracy, while avoiding the disastrous consequences they anticipate resulting from the enactment of SOPA or PIPA.

Although they vary slightly in their language, both SOPA and PIPA would empower the Department of Justice to seek an injunction from a federal judge against a foreign website that it considers to be primarily dedicated to piracy. If the judge agreed, Justice could then prevail on all manner of Internet players, including service providers, search engines, payment processors and ad networks, to cut off services to the offending site.

Critics of the bill, which include major Web companies such as Google and Facebook, have warned that in its efforts to crack down on overseas piracy, the legislation would inevitably ensnare legitimate websites in a form of censorship that would threaten to banish innovative and lawful companies from the Internet.

Additionally, a host of Internet luminaries and security experts have warned of the impact the legislation could have on the core naming and routing system of the Internet, creating the sort of network errors and insecurity that are common to the Internet landscape in authoritarian countries where state censorship is the norm.

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