Opponent says SOPA may be stalled in Congress

Issa says he has assurances that SOPA will not move forward without consensus

Controversial online copyright enforcement bill the Stop Online Piracy Act may be stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives as lawmakers try to iron out a compromise, an opponent of the legislation said.

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, said he's been assured by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor that SOPA will not move forward unless consensus is reached.

"Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote," Issa said. "The voice of the Internet community has been heard. Much more education for Members of Congress about the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal."

A spokeswoman for Cantor declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and chief sponsor of SOPA, said Monday she does not believe Cantor has made a public comment about delaying SOPA.

Issa also announced that a Wednesday hearing on SOPA's impact on cybersecurity has been postponed, following a decision by Smith to take out a provision affecting the domain-name system. Smith announced Friday that he would take out a portion of SOPA that would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring U.S. Internet service providers to block subscriber access to foreign websites accused of infringing copyright.

The U.S. Senate is scheduled to begin voting on a similar bill, the Protect IP Act, on Jan. 24.

"Although SOPA, despite the removal of this provision, is still a fundamentally flawed bill, I have decided that postponing the scheduled hearing on DNS blocking with technical experts is the best course of action at this time," said Issa, who is pushing for an alternate bill, called the OPEN Act. "Right now, the focus of protecting the Internet needs to be on the Senate where Majority Leader Reid has announced his intention to try to move similar legislation in less than two weeks."

Also on Friday, three officials in President Barack Obama's administration issued an inconclusive statement on SOPA after two online petitions called on the president to veto the bill.

The White House statement called on "all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders." The statement was signed by Victoria Espinel, the White House enforcement coordinator, Aneesh Chopra, the U.S. federal CTO, and Howard Schmidt, the cybersecurity coordinator for the Obama administration.

But the statement called for legislation that does not create new cybersecurity risks or limit freedom of expression. "Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," the White House said.

The statement did not directly say whether the White House opposes SOPA or PIPA.

Critics of SOPA say it would create cybersecurity problems, inhibit free speech and hurt innovation. The bill would allow the DOJ to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks and payment processors to stop doing business with foreign websites accused of infringing copyrights. The DOJ could also seek court orders requiring search engines to stop linking to the accused sites, and it would allow private copyright owners to seek court orders against ad networks and payment processors.

But Smith, the SOPA sponsor, said SOPA meets the White House requirements. He welcomed the announcement that "the White House will support legislation to combat online piracy that protects free speech, the Internet and America's intellectual property," he said in a statement. "That's precisely what the Stop Online Piracy Act does."

SOPA is targeted at illegal activity not protected under free speech rights, he said. Critics have said the blocking of websites could lead to the censorship of protected speech on parts of the sites that are blocked.

In addition, SOPA helps innovation, Smith said. "The problem of online piracy discourages innovation because it steals the products and profits that rightly belong to American innovators," he said. "Lawful and legitimate companies should not have to compete with foreign thieves that steal their intellectual property."

Opponents of SOPA, including Public Knowledge and NetCoalition, also applauded the White House statement.

The White House statement highlighted its "serious concerns" with SOPA and PIPA, said Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition. "We appreciate the administration's recognition that our ability to innovate, invest, and grow the economy is dependent upon keeping the Internet open and free."

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.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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