After a marathon debate on the Stop Online Piracy Act, it's clear that the Hollywood-backed bill enjoys enthusiastic support among key members of the U.S. House of Representatives and is one step closer to becoming law.
That became obvious after every legislative attempt to defang, rewrite, or significantly alter SOPA over nearly a 12-hour period today ended in victories for large copyright holders--and defeat upon defeat for the bill's critics.
The committee vote totals on the try-to-fix-SOPA amendments varied but revealed that two-thirds to three-quarters of the members of the Judiciary committee were staunch allies of the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America and would tolerate no changes.
"The bill is a good one and I look forward to reporting it out of committee," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, a longtime copyright hawk, and founder of the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus.
SOPA represents the latest effort from the MPAA, the RIAA, and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially offshore sites such as ThePirateBay.org. The measure would allow the Justice Department to seek a court order to be served on search engines, Internet providers, and other companies forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site effectively vanish from the Internet. It's opposed by a wide range (PDF) of Internet companies, engineers, and civil liberties groups.
The committee markup began at 7 a.m. PT and will resume tomorrow at the same time. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who authored SOPA, is pressing for a final committee vote tomorrow before the House considers a year-end spending bill and then leaves town for the holidays. Some comic relief in today's session: whether the fallout over a politician's snarky "offensive" tweet violated House rules.
Smith appears to be concerned that some of his allies on the committee could defect if the vote is delayed and Silicon Valley firms have more time to mobilize Internet users against the legislation. (See CNET's FAQ.)
Opposition is growing at an intense pace by the standards of Washington, D.C., where federal agencies routinely receive only a few dozen comments on proposed regulations, and tech-politics has not been this polarized since the days of the Communications Decency Act.
Whether that translates into actual phone calls and letters to members of Congress, which are a tad bit more effective than expressing ire through social media, is still an open question. The American Library Association is urging calls to Congress to oppose SOPA; so is Matt Cutts, a geek icon and Google engineer. Engine Advocacy reports about 10,000 people used its Web site to contact politicians. Last month, in just one day, Tumblr users placed 87,000 calls.
In a Google+ post last night, Google co-founder Sergey Brin was even more emphatic, saying SOPA and its Senate cousin, Protect IP, would "would put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world." Vint Cerf, a Google executive who's one of the fathers of the Internet, warned even a revised version of SOPA would "undermine the architecture of the Internet and obstruct the 15 year effort by the public and private sectors to improve cybersecurity through implementation of DNSSEC, a critical set of extensions designed to address security vulnerabilities in the DNS."
Those revisions came under fire today, with SOPA's outnumbered opponents pointing out that version 2.0 of the legislation was circulated only Monday evening, leaving members of the committee little time to figure out what it would do.
There were "no subcommittee markups" and "we haven't even received answers to the questions we were required to submit" during a stacked hearing where only one opponent of the legislation was invited to testify, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat whose district includes Silicon Valley.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California turned out to be the most dogged Republican critic of SOPA. (See CNET's interview with Issa earlier this week.)
"This is not a new problem," he said, suggesting discussions could resume in 2012. "This is not some urgent event like the TARP bailout, like the need for the discussion on the Patriot Act."
Issa, who heads a separate House committee that's conducting multiple investigations of the Obama administration, said Republicans should shy away from anything resembling what the Democrats did when they were in charge.
He compared Smith's rush to judgment to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's famous -- really infamous -- line delivered last year describing the rush to enact Obamacare. "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it," she said.
"We never want to hear that word," Issa said. "Please, please let's find out what's in this before we move forward."
Smith ignored the plea. He adjourned the hearing and indicated he intended to hold a vote before Congress leaves town.
"It'll be a long, hard day tomorrow," Smith said.