SOPA lives: Rep. Lamar Smith to resume markup hearings in February

lamar smith

On the eve of a mass online blackout to protest the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) and the “PROTECT IP Act” (PIPA), Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced today that the House Judiciary Committee, of which he is chairman, will resume markup hearings on SOPA. Smith’s decision comes just days after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised that the controversial anti-piracy legislation would not come up for a vote before the full House until consensus on the bill is reached among representatives.

“To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America’s intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and Members to find ways to combat online piracy,” said Smith in a statement posted to the Judiciary Committee’s website.

“Due to the Republican and Democratic retreats taking place over the next two weeks, markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act is expected to resume in February.

“I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property.”

PIPA, the Senate’s version of the anti-piracy legislation, has already passed through committee markup, and is currently set for a procedural vote before the full Senate on January 24 to begin debate on the bill.

In the face of mounting opposition to SOPA and PIPA, both Rep. Smith, chief sponsor of SOPA, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, chief sponsor of PIPA, have agreed to drop provisions in each of these bills that would require Internet service providers to block access to infringing foreign sites using DNS blocking, a controversial technique that technical experts argue could have detrimental consequences for the underlying structure of the Internet, and make it more vulnerable to cyberattacks.

Paul Bringer, senior vice president and chief technology office of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a strong supporter of both SOPA and PIPA, has confirmed that DNS blocking is now “off the table.”

Opponents of SOPA and PIPA assert that the broad language of these bills could result in the censorship of free speech, stifled online innovation, and result in other forms of collateral damage and abuse. Smith, the MPAA, and other supporters of these bills argue that these fears are founded upon misinformation, and assure that no such consequences would occur if either of these bills (or a combination of the two, which is more likely) became law.

Adding further challenges to the passage of SOPA or PIPA, the White House released a statement this weekend declaring that President Obama “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet,” a hint at an intention to veto such legislation.

The opposition movement appears poised to only grow stronger, with a rapidly ballooning number of websites, including Reddit, WordPress, 64 Cheezburger Network sites, Boing Boing, Mozilla, Destructioid, TwitPic, Imgur, and all 3.8 million English-language Wikipedia articles, planning to go “black” (i.e. display a page in protest of SOPA/PIPA) for 12 to 24 hours, starting at midnight tonight. These organizations hope the voluntary blackout will raise public awareness about what they believe could happen were SOPA and/or PIPA to be voted into law.