Friday, January 13, 2012

Congress Back-Peddles On Internet Anti-Piracy Bills As Major Websites Threaten One-Day Strike

Anti-SOPA site calls from a world-wide web strike Jan. 18th

Opponents of internet anti-piracy bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), got a bit of a victory today.

Senator Patrick Leahy, lead sponsor of PIPA, announced he would delay implementation of DNS blocking until further studies can be done. In the House, Lamar Smith, one of SOPA's biggest backers, announced DNS blocking would be removed altogether from the bill.

"After consultation with industry groups across the country," Smith said in a statement released by his office, "I feel we should remove DNS-blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the [U.S. House Judiciary] Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision.

"We will continue to look for ways," Smith continued, "to ensure that foreign Web sites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers.
Though DNS blocking will be removed, the bills would still compel domestic financial service providers like PayPal to cut off payment options to foreign illegal sites. Search engines like Google would also still be required to remove infringing sites from their search results. Copyright holders can still bring "private rights of action" against foreign Web sites they claim infringe on the intellectual property.

Although seen as a step in the right direction, opponents are far from satisfied. Many seem especially skeptical of Leahy's statement, claiming a delay in the implementation of DNS blocking is just a semantic trick, and won't result in removing it entirely from the bill.

Unfortunately, despite the clear words in the announcement, it appears that Leahy's staff is going around suggesting to the press that this means he's dropping DNS. Thus you get reports in Wired and in ReadWriteWeb saying that Leahy is offering to remove the DNS blocking provisions. That's exactly what Leahy's staff would like people to believe, in the hopes that this makes the bill palatable. First, it wouldn't actually make the bill palatable, but it's important to read what Leahy actually said:

As I prepare a managers' amendment to be considered during the floor debate, I will therefore propose that the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied before implemented...
That is NOT removing the DNS blocking provisions. It is merely delaying them.

Furthermore, since the DNS blocking was such a key component of the bill and, at the very last minute, Leahy is suddenly claiming that we can all ignore that section for the time being, isn't that reason enough to stop and wait, rather than rushing this bill forward?

Meanwhile, a coalition of major websites, including Reddit,, Mozilla and Twitpic are still planning on a one-day "strike" January 18th in order to keep pressure on Congress.

It’s on — at least partially: Reddit has announced that it will go dark for 12 hours to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has said that he hopes to coordinate with the site so that Wikipedia does the same. Will other sites join in? Should we prepare for the Great Internet Strike of 2012?

Writing that it’s “not taking this action lightly,” Reddit announced on Tuesday that it will black out its site on Jan. 18 for 12 hours, starting at 8 a.m. E.T. During that period, the site’s content will be replaced with “a simple message about how the PIPA/SOPA legislation would shut down sites like reddit, link to resources to learn more, and suggest ways to take action.”

The strike will coincide with that day's hearing for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Chaired by leading SOPA opponent, Congressman Darrell Issa, the hearing will focus Internet security, intellectual property and economic growth.  

Anti-SOPA/PIPA organizers are also asking the public to petition Google, Facebook and Wikipedia to join the strike as well.

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