If you’re hep to the internet, you’ve probably come across a wave of information — and even outrage — on the Senate’s PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) and its House companion, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). These controversial pieces of legislation have the stated goals of curbing foreign “rogue websites,” but the initial versions of the bills would have done way more than that. Hence the widespread disapproval.
For those not keeping score, both bills have been aggressively supported by the entertainment industry, including their powerful Washington representation. On the movie side, it’s the MPAA; for the labels, it’s the RIAA. Musicians unions like the American Federation of Musicians also support the bills, as do the Directors’ Guild and PROs like ASCAP and SoundExchange. We understand why: the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted files impacts how traditional industries do business. Opposing the bills are a growing roster of individual artists and groups like FMC, American Performing Arts Presenters, Writers Guild of America West, Fractured Atlas, Theatre Communications Group, OPERA America, Dance/USA, National Alliance for Musical Theatre the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture and more.
We’re all for combatting piracy, but the questionion is how to best go about doing it. The original SOPA and PIPA would have undermined free expression while negatively impacting the sites and services today’s musicians use every day. This is why we took a stand and urged Congress to go back to the drawing board and consult with actual musicians and music entrepreneurs before passing legislation that could cripple innovation and creative commerce.
We’re happy to say that the pressure from musicians, arts organizations, technologists, entrepreneurs and internet users has made Congress realize that these bills are utterly undercooked. Opposition to the legislation has been growing steadily, with major websites and online communities making millions of users aware of the bills’ potential dangers to free speech and creative entrepreneurship.
The House of Representatives has all but killed their version of the bill, or at least signaled their intent to go back to square one and bring in more stakeholders. On the Senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is still planning to bring PIPA up for a vote on the Senate Floor on or around January 24. But with pressure brewing, it remains to be seen whether this is a viable political option.
Interestingly, an alternative to SOPA and PIPA — the OPEN Act, introduced by Sentator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) — was never seriously considered by the major rightsholder groups so keen to hammer their preferred bills home. Too bad, because it looks like that their pet bills will end up looking a lot like OPEN in the end. That is, if they even manage to limp through this session of Congress.
On Saturday, the White House got involved in the debate via an official response to a pair of petitions to Whitehouse.org. In it, the Administration said it could not support bills that could censor legitimate online activity, inhibit innovation, or create new cybersecurity risks — all of which were the main concerns of the anti-SOPA/PIPA crowd. The White House also stated that Domain Name Service (DNS) provisions, a tentpole of both bills, “pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online.” Sort of like we’ve been saying all along. The administration suggested that any bills be “narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law” and “prevent[ing] overly broad private rights of action.” Lastly, they called for additional online discussion and public input concerning how best to proceed.
Consider us pleased with this well-reasoned statement.
So where are we now? Well, with SOPA essentially stalled in the House, all eyes are on the Upper Chamber. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) recently said that there would be an ammendment to PIPA to look at the impacts of the DNS filtering provision. Around the same time, six Republican Senators — including Chuck Grassley (IA), Orrin Hatch (UT), Jeff Sessions (AL), John Cornyn (TX), Mike Lee (UT) and Tom Coburn (OK) — sent a letter to Reid seeking a delay to the floor vote. This is significant, as Grassley and Hatch were among the bill’s 40 cosponsors. Additionally, Pat Toomey (R-PA) stated that he can’t support this version of PIPA; Sen. Mark Udall (R-CO) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) echoed that position.
On January 18, tons of websites, including the highly-trafficked Reddit and Wikipedia, intend to “go dark” in protest of the upcoming Senate vote. FMC still thinks that, if there’s a problem, we need to figure out a narrowly-tailored approach to address it. In the meantime, those looking to weigh in with their representatives can head to AmericanCensorship.org.