Rep. Zoe Lofgren, the California Democrat whose district includes the heart of Silicon Valley, is preparing to lead congressional opposition to the new Stop Online Piracy Act.
The antipiracy legislation, introduced yesterday in the House of Representatives to the applause of lobbyists for Hollywood and other large content holders, is designed to make allegedly copyright-infringing Web sites, sometimes called "rogue" Web sites, virtually disappear from the Internet.
"I'm still reviewing the legislation, but from what I've already read, this would mean the end of the Internet as we know it," Lofgren told CNET.
Lofgren, whose congressional district includes the high-tech center of San Jose, will be a key ally for Google, Yahoo, and other tech companies who are already working with advocacy groups through trade associations to figure out how to defeat SOPA (PDF), also known as the E-Parasite Act.
So far, at least, they're outnumbered, outspent, and outgunned. SOPA's backers include the Republican or Democratic heads of all the relevant House and Senate committees, and groups as far afield as the Teamsters have embraced the measure on the theory that it will protect and create U.S. jobs.
SOPA is so controversial -- the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls it "disastrous" -- because it would force changes to the Domain Name System and effectively create a blacklist of Internet domains suspected of intellectual property violations.
Lofgren's long familiarity with tech issues (I interviewed her at a Santa Clara law school conference in February, and she's been dubbed a politician who "actually understands how the Internet works") will help her rally SOPA opposition. More importantly, though, she's a member of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet that will meet soon to review the legislation.
A Senate version of the bill called the Protect IP Act, which a committee approved in May, was broadly supported by film and music industry companies, who say there's no other realistic way to shut down rogue Web sites. But Google chairman Eric Schmidt was sharply critical, as were prominent venture capitalists, civil liberties groups, and trade associations representing Web companies.
For Lofgren, at least, opposing an expansion of copyright law won't be a novel task. After the Department of Homeland Security began seizing alleged piratical domains last fall, Lofgren wrote a letter to the department expressing concerns about the practice.
When an earlier version of Protect IP was advancing in the Senate last year, Lofgren said: "I'm particularly concerned that it could set a precedent for further control and censorship of the Internet by foreign governments, and risk the fragmentation of the global domain name system. Many prominent human rights activists and Internet engineers have voiced these concerns, and they deserve serious consideration."
Lofgren has also earned the enmity of some copyright lobbyists for trying to expand Americans' fair use rights. In 2002, she introduced a bill--which was ultimately unsuccessful--that would amend the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to allow consumers to make backup copies of digital media such as DVDs that they had lawfully purchased.