Congress’ drive to enact legislation to battle online piracy and target websites that violate intellectual property laws stalled last week.
Lobbying action against the proposals was so intense that floor action on both the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) proposed by the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) forged in the the House were postponed while supporters and opponents strain for compromises that will allow the movement to go forward.
But the Obama White House strongly objects to parts of the bill that the administration believes would force Internet service providers to block websites by removing critical elements of web security that verify sites as legitimate.
"Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected," the White House said in a Jan. 14 letter that said the president will not support legislation that would result in online censorship or pose cybersecurity risks to Internet users.
If enacted, SOPA and PIPA would enhance existing anti-piracy legislation, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which went into effect in 2000 and already targets pirated materials online and removes them.
But each proposal would go a step further and give the Justice Department the authority to take down the entire site which supports the illegal activity. For example, if one section of a website was selling illegal Beyonce CD's, instead of removing just the illegal content, this new law would shut down the entire platform for the material and slap heavy fines on the website.
Companies such as Wordpress, Tumblr, and Reddit all drummed up opposition against the bill last week, some even shutting down their websites for 24 hours in protest during the second week of January.
"If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States," said Wikipedia in a statement, among the best known of the sites to shut down as a form of pressure against the legislation.
Supporters of the legislation see it differently. "It's a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests," former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), now CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), said of the website blackouts Jan. 18.
The acts would allow for Justice Department to stop payments to foreign-based websites selling pirated goods such as bootleg movies, stolen music, and counterfeit goods in this country. But the proposals would also put a damper on internet start-up companies, critics say, claiming most newcomers would be intimidated by the prospect of the potential legal costs and fines that could result from even one violation.
"The possible unintended consequences, such as stifling innovation and limiting free speech on the Internet, have come to the forefront of debate," said Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.) in a press release after withdrawing support from SOPA. "An open internet requires that we find a better approach that is acceptable to all sides."