SOPA fight in 'last rounds,' says senator at CES

SOPA opponents make their case at CES while backers wait in hall

LAS VEGAS -- With the odds perhaps still against them, two lawmakers who are fighting the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills took their case to the world's largest consumer electronics gathering.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and U.S. Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), have been championing alternative legislation, the Open Act, against two bills that they believe will radically alter the Web.

"This is going to turn websites into Web cops," said Wyden, of the two bills. SOPA is being pushed in the House of Representatives; PIPA is similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Instead of "three guys in a garage" launching a Web-based business "you're going to be three people with an upstairs full of lawyers telling you whether or not you are going to be able to operate a Web site."

The Consumer Electronics Association, which runs CES, is a leading opponent of SOPA. The fight over this particular bill is part of a long-running battle in Washington between content producers and large parts of the IT industry over how Congress should go about protecting copyright.

SOPA, in particular, has generated an outpouring of protest over provisions that would allow ISPs to cut off access to infringing Web sites. Critics warn of censorship.

Wyden, who is sponsoring an alternative bill with Issa, said his side "has been fighting above our weight" and argues that the battle is "moving into the last rounds."

He was referring to the 41 Senators that have agreed to co-sponsor PIPA. Hearings are planned later this month.

But Wyden, meeting with press here at CES, said "there is tremendous support growing for our side," particularly at the grassroots level.

SOPA supporters say their bill is directed at foreign rogue websites, said Wyden. "Nobody is for foreign rogue websites," he said.

The Issa and Wyden bill, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (Open Act) would shift the enforcement process against infringing sites to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) instead of federal courts. The bill would expand the ITC's authority to handle copyright infringement cases.

Issa said such a move would deliver "low cost, high reliability and predictability." SOPA will bring cases to district courts "all over the place" and offer "very little continuity," he argued.

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