House Panel to Move Forward on Stop Online Piracy Act

A U.S. House of Representatives committee has scheduled a debate and vote on controversial copyright legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act, with the bill's main sponsor offering an amendment meant to address some concerns with the bill.

A House Judiciary Committee markup for Stop Online Piracy, or SOPA, is scheduled for 10 a.m. Eastern Time Thursday. Representative Lamar Smith, the committee chairman and main sponsor of the bill, will offer a wide-ranging amendment to the bill, his spokeswoman said.

Smith and the Judiciary Committee staff have been working closely with lawmakers and interested groups for the past few weeks "to strengthen the bill and address legitimate concerns from groups who are interested in working with Congress to combat foreign rogue websites," said the spokeswoman for Smith, a Texas Republican.

In a markup, lawmakers have the opportunity to debate and amend a bill. If the Judiciary Committee votes to approve SOPA, the next step would be for the full House to vote on it. Smith introduced SOPA on Oct. 26.

Monday's announcement of the markup came the same day that Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said the antipiracy legislation would allow "censorship" of the Internet. The entertainment industry has "overreached," Schmidt said during a speech before the Economic Club of Washington, D.C. "What they've said is, 'We're going to criminalize the linking and structure of the Internet itself. If someone posts a copied video, we're going to force intermediaries to take the link down.'"

SOPA would allow U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders blocking payment processors and online advertising networks from doing business with foreign sites accused of infringing copyright.

Under the current language in SOPA, the DOJ-requested court orders could also bar search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites, and require domain name registrars to take down the websites and Internet service providers to block subscriber access to sites accused of infringing.

SOPA would also allow copyright holders to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks and payment processors to stop supporting the alleged infringers if those businesses do not comply with requests from copyright holders. Under the current language, the court orders requested by copyright holders could target U.S. websites and services that enable or facilitate copyright, in addition to foreign websites.

Smith's proposed amendment would clarify that the bill applies only to foreign websites, not U.S. sites, accused of aiding copyright infringement. The amendment takes away language requiring Internet service providers, search engines and other services to redirect Web users who try to access a foreign site accused of infringing copyright.

In response to concerns about harm to the Internet domain name system, the amendment would prohibit courts from issuing orders that harm the DNS, and it requires a government study on the impact of the bill on the DNS.

The amendment also narrows several definitions in the bill.

Several SOPA opponents contacted for this story did not have immediate comments on the proposed amendment.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Subscribe to the Tablet Tips & Trends Newsletter

Comments