Supporters of SOPA, PIPA stick to their guns

Widespread online protests dismissed as political stunts

Beleaguered supporters of two online antipiracy bills today downplayed widespread protests against the legislation and insisted the opposition is misguided and misinformed.

Supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) labeled today's protests by Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and others as political stunts that contribute little to the debate around the pros and cons of the two bills.

One example is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has been a vocal supporter of antipiracy legislation.

In a statement, Steve Tapp, the chamber's chief counsel on intellectual property, said the protest was unwarranted considering the changes that have already been made to both bills in response to concerns.

"The PROTECT IP Act and SOPA have been modified by their sponsors to address concerns by removing entirely the provision that would have required blocking of criminal sites," Tapp said. "Strangely, those who demanded that change are now shutting themselves down, although it is not clear why they are still protesting after they got what they wanted."

SOPA and PIPA are intended to give U.S. copyright and IP owners better tools for going after rogue foreign sites, which they contend are dedicated to copyright theft, patent infringement and counterfeiting.

Both bills have been watered down considerably since they were introduced. For instance, a controversial provision that would have required Internet service providers to conduct DNS (domain name system) blocking and filtering to block access to rogue foreign sites has been dropped from SOPA.

But critics contend that the bills, while well-intentioned, are still badly crafted and will affect legitimate U.S. websites as well as foreign sites.

One of the major fears is that SOPA and PIPA will force ISPs, search engine companies and other Internet intermediaries to become copyright cops on behalf of content owners.

There's also fear that the law will put pressure on ISPs and others to voluntarily block access to sites that are found to have infringed copyright and patent protection laws.

In addition, many are worried about a provision in SOPA that would essentially allow content owners to obtain unopposed court orders forcing online advertising networks and payment processors, such as MasterCard and PayPal, to shut off services to foreign sites that the content owners decide are infringing on their property.

Critics such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation contend that such measures will enable a sort of Internet censorship and prior restraint of free speech.

Supporters of the bill said that such concerns were based on misinformation.

"It's a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users and arm them with misinformation," said Jonathan Lamy, senior vice president of communications at the Recording Industry Association of America.

SOPA protest in NYC
New York City demonstration against SOPA/PIPA, outside the Manhattan offices of Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, two Democrats who co-sponsored the Senate PIPA bill. (Image: Joab Jackson / IDG News Service)
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