More opponents of PIPA and SOPA emerge on the right
House and Senate bills to combat "foreign rogue websites" remain on track for important votes in the coming weeks, but opposition to the measures is extending across the partisan spectrum. Today's example: Heritage Action, a nonprofit advocacy group aligned with the conservative Heritage Foundation, announced its opposition to the Protect IP Act, or PIPA, and the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and said it would include any votes on those issues on its election-year scorecards.
Heritage Action's move is significant because conservative groups have traditionally been strong supporters of copyright and trademark protection. To them, intellectual property is property. But they have also been skeptical of government regulation, and the more libertarian-minded among them have been downright hostile to regulating the Internet. A good example of the latter is the Tech Liberation Front blog, which has long criticized PIPA, SOPA and their 2009 precursor, a Senate bill that went by the acronym COICA.
Heritage Action's blog expressed relief that the bills' sponsors have backed away from their proposal to require Internet providers to block offending sites' domain names. But it wasn't happy with other elements of the bills:
[T]he legislation would put a tremendous legal burden on websites accused of third-party copyright infringement and would cause them to be removed from search engines. Opponents have compared the legislation to China's online censorship. Even if they made an honest mistake, they would be faced with litigation from the U.S. Attorney General. Fighting the accusations would cost so much time and money that smaller sites would likely go out of business fighting. Private lawsuits could also be brought against the websites. This would open up the potential for massive lawsuit abuse -– even though the vast majority of online piracy occurs through a small number of websites.
The emerging opposition from mainstream conservatives like Heritage Action complements the resistance that civil liberties groups, left-of-center activists, tech industry hotbeds on both coasts and venture capitalists have been putting up since the measures were introduced. Support for the bills is equally bipartisan, however, suggesting that this issue won't be decided by ideology. Instead, it's coming down to a lobbying battle between bill supporters (entertainment companies and trademark owners) and opponents over how best to respond to foreign sites that promote piracy.
Meanwhile, work on the bills continues. The bills' authors have promised to release new versions of the measures that address the complaints about domain name blocking and other issues. And the last time I checked, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was still planning to bring PIPA to the Senate floor for a cloture vote early next week, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said Tuesday that his committee will take up the bill again next month in an effort to move it to the House floor.
-- Jon Healey
Photo: Crowd-sourced online encyclopedia Wikipedia alerts users to its plan to go offline Jan. 18 to protest PIPA and SOPA. Credit: Karen Bleier / AFP/Getty Images