In the last day, Sen. Harry Reid has said there will be a vote in the Senate on the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (Protect IP) act on January 24. In the last hour there have been reports that a vote in the House on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) act could be this week. The SOPA markup hearing, which has been heated so far, is scheduled to continue in the House tomorrow. Sen. Patrick Leahy is the sponsor of Protect IP and if the vote occurs as scheduled will be only a few months after his co-sponsored America Invents Act became law. Rep. Lamar Smith is the sponsor of SOPA.
The proposed laws provide remedies for attacking offshore “rogue” websites accused of flagrantly infringing rights in US copyrighted works and selling counterfeit goods. The bills have that rarest of commodities, bipartisan support. But opposition within Congress and online has been crystallizing rapidly, and many observers see the sudden rush to votes as an effort to get ahead of opponents’ organizing.
Opponents are energized by what they see as a Big Brother power to make offending websites disappear with a relatively simple judicial procedure. Supporters include the largest organized voices of the entertainment industry. Opponents include search engines and ISP’s.
There are large technical issues about how these bills would work in practice, but one way to view them is that they are the latest attempt in American law to say “Enough stealing already!” And as with other attempts to regulate the Internet, opponents see the bills as threats to liberty, especially First Amendment rights. This fight has been underway since before A&M Records v. Napster over a decade ago. All interested spectators need to pay attention. Adoption of Protect IP or SOPA in the next few weeks will be the starting gun for this latest contest and the new litigation it will surely provoke.