The Internet apparently has dodged part of what it considers a pretty big bullet, at least for the time being.
Bills making their way through the House and Senate are aimed at addressing pernicious problems, including offshore sites that offer content without having secured the right to do so. The House's version of the effort is the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's is the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
The bills have generated firestorms of criticism, even outrage, over how they aim to achieve their goal. Critics say that the tools that would be created if the bills became law could be used to censor the Internet and would fundamentally alter its open nature. The most sensitive elements of PIPA and SOPA - the way this control would be exercised - focus on domain name system (DNS) administration.
MSNBC, in a story reporting on the concern over SOPA/PIPA at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week in Las Vegas, effectively summed up the issue. Though only SOPA is mentioned, Bob Sullivan's explanation extends to the entire issue:
SOPA's supporters say the bill would give intellectual property rights holders - such as TV studios - a powerful new tool to protect their creative works. But opponents say it would allow federal authorities to shut down entire portions of the Internet without due process, and fundamentally alter the Internet's ability to provide a platform for free speech.
The good news for SOPA/PIPA critics, reported by CNET, is that the sponsor of PIPA is shelving the DNS provisions, at least for now. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said on Vermont Public Radio that he will let interested parties "spend a year or so" studying the controversial elements. His office subsequently issued a press release reiterating his broadcast comments.
In what clearly is a less significant - but far more humorous - piece of news on the topic is a faux pas by the SOPA author Lamar Smith (R-Tex.). His organization apparently is guilty of the activity he is trying to stop. Vice blogger Jamie Lee Curtis Taete tracked down the photographer whose image was used as a background on Smith's website, at least as recently as last July. The art photo was taken by DJ Schulte, whom Taete quotes:
I do not see anywhere on the screen capture that you have provided that the image was attributed to the source (me). So my conclusion would be that Lamar Smith's organization did improperly use my image. So according to the SOPA bill, should it pass, maybe I could petition the court to take action against www.texansforlamarsmith.com.
That, of course, is more of an embarrassment than a substantive argument against SOPA/PIPA. It does seem, however, that the tide is turning against the initiative. Even though the CNET piece points out that PIPA still contains significant issues that rankle free speech activists, Leahy sounds like a politician who is about ready to call it a day.
In any case, the two bills presumably now are quite different - PIPA no longer will have the DNS provisions, SOPA will - and would present more of a conference committee challenge. I'm no expert on how that works, but it clearly seems that the bills are growing more dissimilar due to controversial elements and the objections of powerful constituents make it more likely that sponsors - who, after all, are politicians - will throw up their hands.