Bill sponsor says SOPA hearing to resume in February

Smith says he'll push forward with the controversial copyright enforcement legislation

A hearing to amend and debate the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act should resume in February, its chief sponsor said, even in the face of new opposition to the copyright enforcement bill.

The House Judiciary Committee held three days of so-called markup hearings on SOPA in December, but opponents of the bill flooded the committee with more than 20 amendments. In a markup hearing, a committee votes on amendments to a bill and votes on whether to approve the bill and send it to the full House for action.

Representative Lamar Smith, the lead sponsor of SOPA and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday he intends to resume the markup session next month. "To enact legislation that protects consumers, businesses and jobs from foreign thieves who steal America's intellectual property, we will continue to bring together industry representatives and members to find ways to combat online piracy," Smith, a Texas Republican, said in a statement.

Last Friday, Smith said he plans to offer an amendment taking out a provision in the bill that would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring U.S. ISPs (Internet service providers) to block subscriber access to foreign websites accused of copyright infringement.

Lawmakers have heard from thousands of Internet users who oppose SOPA. Opponents say the bill, even with the ISP provision taken out, offers little protection from court orders initiated by the DOJ and copyright holders. The bill could also block or choke off websites containing legitimate free speech, critics say.

Public Knowledge, a digital rights group opposed to SOPA, called on Smith to delay the markup of the bill.

The committee should "arrive at a consensus approach to resolving the issues in SOPA that have resulted in nation-wide protests, rather than to force through a bill on which there is widespread disagreement," Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director for the group, said in an email. "While we eagerly await a new version of the bill, it is clear that simply tinkering around the edges will not make this legislation acceptable."

Supporters of SOPA and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), a similar bill in the Senate, say the legislation is needed because U.S. law enforcement agencies and copyright holders have few tools to respond to foreign websites that infringe U.S. copyright. Infringement by foreign sites is a massive business issue, supporters of the bill say.

On Saturday, three officials with President Barack Obama's administration issued a statement that appeared to oppose SOPA and PIPA.

And on Wednesday, organizers expect about 7,000 websites, including Reddit, Wikipedia and Mozilla.org, to go dark in protest against SOPA and PIPA.

Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, called the Web protest a "stunt" and a "gimmick."

"It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information [and] use their services," Dodd said in a statement. "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."

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.

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