nav search

Congress puts PIPA and SOPA on back burner

Put down the champagne, protesters, it's not over yet

By Iain Thomson, 20 Jan 2012

Political leaders have cancelled plans to vote on the SOPA and PIPA legislation currently before Congress, saying more time is needed to examine the issue.

Nevada senator Harry Reid, who is shepherding PIPA through the Senate, announced that he would postpone a vote on the bill that was scheduled for next week “in light of recent events.” Nevertheless, he praised the proposed legislation and said he looked forward to eventually getting it to a vote.

“We must take action to stop these illegal practices,” he said in a statement. "We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day's work, 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.”

Shortly afterwards, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith said that the SOPA legislation currently in the House of Representatives would be put on hold, but warned that the government would have to pass some kind of legislation to deal with foreign thieves.

The MPAA signaled its determination to carry on the fight in a brief statement on the matter.

“As a consequence of failing to act, there will continue to be a safe haven for foreign thieves; American jobs will continue to be lost; and consumers will continue to be exposed to fraudulent and dangerous products peddled by foreign criminals,” MPAA CEO and former US senator Chris Dodd wrote.

The move is a partial victory for protestors who have been active online and off. However, the legislation is currently only on hold, so there are plenty of opportunities for the media industry to take another shot at it once all the fuss has died down. There has been too much money spent on campaign contributions to give up now, and the industry will be patient, hold some telegenic hearings, and try again later – there's a marvelously distracting presidential election that could prove very useful.

But the move also brings attention to the bipartisan Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN Act),which would block funds going to foreign piracy websites but not attempt to block them by disrupting the DNS infrastructure. Instead of the Justice Department adjudicating sanctions, the task would instead be assigned to intellectual property experts at the US International Trade Commission (ITC).

"Supporters of the Internet deserve credit for pressing advocates of SOPA and PIPA to back away from an effort to ram through controversial legislation," said OPEN Act co-sponsor and trenchant SOPA critic, Congressman Darrell Issa.

"Over the last two months, the intense popular effort to stop SOPA and PIPA has defeated an effort that once looked unstoppable but lacked a fundamental understanding of how Internet technologies work," Issa said. "Postponing the Senate vote on PIPA removes the imminent threat to the Internet, but it's not over yet.”

Given the stunning ignorance shown by the legislature and the Department of Justice on internet matters, having some experts on board might be welcome. But the OPEN Act is far from perfect - there’s nothing on fair use, for example. Nevertheless, it is supported by companies such as Google and Facebook, so has a shot at passing.

But the media industry isn’t going to give up, and with an election year in the cycle, politicians will be hungry for campaign funds. Given the nature of the US political system, this may come down to who has the deepest pockets. ®