Microsoft opposes SOPA, declines to join blackout strike

'Hundreds of millions...rely on our services,' says Windows developer

Microsoft today said it opposes a controversial anti-piracy bill in the U.S., but declined to join the widespread "Internet strike" that sites like Google and Wikipedia were conducting.

"We oppose the passage of the SOPA bill as currently drafted," said a Microsoft spokesman in an emailed statement. "This is an important issue and we think the recent White House statement points in a constructive way to problems with the current legislation, the need to fix them, and the opportunity for people on all sides to talk together about a better path forward."

Although 2011 reports had said that Microsoft was quietly working behind the scenes to modify SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, this was the first time the company publicly stated its position.

SOPA, which is being considered by the U.S. House of Representatives, and a similar bill in the Senate -- the Protect IP Act, or PIPA -- are designed to make it easier for U.S. copyright holders to retaliate against foreign websites that distribute pirated movies, music and software, or sell other counterfeit goods.

Opponents, however, have argued that the legislation will give content owners too much power -- enough to censor domestic websites -- and that it jeopardizes the Web's security.

Todd Bishop of GeekWire first reported on Microsoft's SOPA stance Tuesday.

The White House statement Microsoft mentioned was issued last Saturday. It was written by a trio of government officials, including Aneesh Chopra, the United States' chief technology officer, and Howard Schmidt, the White House's cyber-security coordinator.

They called online piracy "a real problem that harms the American economy" and urged both sides to "work together to pass sound legislation this year."

But while Microsoft opposes SOPA, it was not joining the blackouts, complete and partial, used by Mozilla, Google, Reddit, Wikipedia and others to protest the bill.

"Hundreds of millions of customers rely on our services every day so we don't plan to shut those down to express our view," the Microsoft spokesman said.

Other opponents of SOPA-PIPA have taken the same route.

Seven of the nine companies that sent a joint letter (download PDF) to key members of Congress last November -- AOL, eBay, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo and Zygna -- also did not modify their sites today.

In the letter, the seven firms, along with Google and Mozilla, argued that the bills "pose a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job-creation, as well as to our Nation's cybersecurity."

Microsoft is a major member of the Business Software Alliance (BSA), a trade group that combats software piracy. The BSA initially supported SOPA, but last November the the group changed its mind, saying that the bill was too broadly written, and would "sweep in more than just truly egregious actors."

See more on the controversy over SOPA.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

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