White House Washes Hands of SOPA

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The White House threw its considerable weight against the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) Saturday morning in a blog post that stated unambiguously that the Administration "will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet."

The post—co-authored by Victoria Espinel (Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget), Aneesh Chopra (U.S. Chief Technology Officer and Assistant to the President and Associate Director for Technology at the Office of Science and Technology Policy) and Howard Schmidt (Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff—framed online piracy as "a real problem that harms the American economy, threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation's most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs," and talked about encouraging "all private parties, including both content creators and Internet platform providers working together, to adopt voluntary measures and best practices to reduce online piracy," but the real intent of the piece was twofold—to send the clear message that SOPA is dead in its current form while similtaneously expressing the Administration's interest in having anti-piracy legislation brought to the President's desk.

"So, rather than just look at how legislation can be stopped, ask yourself: Where do we go from here?" the Obama Administration challenged the reader. "Don’t limit your opinion to what’s the wrong thing to do, ask yourself what’s right.

"Moving forward," it added, "we will continue to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis on legislation that provides new tools needed in the global fight against piracy and counterfeiting, while vigorously defending an open Internet based on the values of free expression, privacy, security and innovation."

As definitive as the Saturday morning announcement was, however, SOPA's forward momentum had already been stalled late Friday with the announcement by Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight And Government Reform, that he had postponed a hearing on SOPA scheduled for this Wednesday "following assurances that anti-piracy legislation will not move to the House floor this Congress without a consensus."

The lawmaker continued, "Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote. The voice of the Internet community has been heard. Much more education for Members of Congress about the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal.”

Issa's actions dovetailed with news that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) announced Friday his decision to "remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision. We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers."

"Meanwhile," reported Forbes, "the Senate is slowly dialing down its support its own copyright-protection bill, the Protect IP Act or PIPA. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, has said he’s willing to remove DNS blocking from the Senate legislation, and a group of six GOP senators who previously supported the bill have asked for a delay in voting on PIPA until its effects can be further studied."

The next move apparently belongs to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who, according to Issa, “has announced his intention to try to move similar legislation in less than two weeks."

Despite these setbacks, it appears as if some powerful Washington players are hoping to use the sturm und drang over SOPA and Protect IP as an opportunity to fashion a bill that can address the current imbalance allowed by the DMCA without tilting the playing field too far the other way...and be able to pass both chambers of Congress and get a signature by the President. A tall order, but who knows, that may have been the true intent behind these bills all along.