SOPA/PIPA on Hold, Hollywood on Defensive

WASHINGTON — Responding to an up-swell of corporate and public outcry over the proposed legislation, lawmakers have postponed an upcoming vote on SOPA and PIPA.

The controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Senate’s version of the bill, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), seek to empower U.S. copyright holders in their war against foreign websites that knowingly infringe upon their intellectual property — with far-reaching consequences that could harm the business models of user-generated content sites, such as Wikipedia, and ad-based models, such as Google AdWords, which generates huge profits from pirated content.

As the war of words and a well orchestrated media campaign heat up, lawmakers have decided to take a step back to reevaluate the proposed laws, which pit content producers against an Internet culture that believes “everything should be free.”

Citing cries of censorship, SOPA architect Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), today postponed consideration of the bill.

“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy,” Smith stated. “It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) made a similar statement today, delaying Tuesday’s vote until the Senate Judiciary Committee is able to move the agenda forward, while holding hope out for a workable solution.

“[We must] continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the Internet,” Reid stated. “We made good progress through the discussions we’ve held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks.”

Reid believes that there is no reason why the legitimate issues raised by this bill cannot be resolved and insists that a solution that protects American’s interests will be found.

“Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs,” Reid noted. “We must take action to stop these illegal practices.”

“We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day’s work,” Reid concluded, adding “whether that person is a miner in the high desert of Nevada, an independent band in New York City, or a union worker on the back lots of a California movie studio.”

The bills are of huge concern to overseas operators of adult tube sites, for example, and other sites that have previously hidden from (or behind) U.S. laws, such as the DMCA, while still making use of U.S.-based services, such as ad networks, billing and hosting — infrastructure items that are threatened by SOPA/PIPA’s empowering of content owners seeking to more effectively pursue offshore pirates that too often thumbed their noses at lawful requests to remove infringing content, such as via a DMCA request.

Speaking on behalf of Hollywood, Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), former Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, is irked at some of the misrepresentations being made in the debate, while seeing the need for compromise.

One red herring that Dodd takes issue with is that of filtering Domain Name Systems (DNS), which critics call censorship, ineffectual and a security threat. Dodd notes that even though this provision is no longer in the proposed legislation, critics still harp on.

“[When DNS filtering] was in the bill, it was completely misrepresented as something new that was going to break the Internet,” Dodd told The Hollywood Reporter. “If that was the case, the Internet would have broken a long time ago given that DNS filtering has gone on all over the world for years.”

Dodd explained that 25 to 30 countries have already imposed DNS filtering “on child pornography, to block phishing and all sorts of activities that can put the Internet at risk.”

As for claims of censorship and lofty ideas about what constitutes “free speech,” Dodd notes that the film and television business have been among the greatest advocates of free speech, having fought for it so many times over the years, and adds that “illegal conduct is not protected by the First Amendment.”

“The Internet is not a law-free zone. It doesn’t create exceptions for illegal activity. Stealing is wrong. The First Amendment doesn’t protect stealing,” Dodd stated. “There’s nothing in this bill in any manner, shape or form that would deprive people of their First Amendment rights.”

“We’re not debating about what ought to be done,” Dodd stated. “The question is ‘how do you do it?’”

That is a question that will plague U.S. lawmakers for the foreseeable future.