Internet opponents of a pair of controversial Hollywood-backed copyright bills won a temporary reprieve today, when upcoming votes in the Senate and House of Representatives were postponed.
But the lobbyists and politicians backing the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and Protect IP haven't given up.
"We must take action to stop" online piracy and counterfeiting, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said today. Reid, who previously called the Protect IP bill an "extremely important" piece of legislation, said he believed it could move forward "in the coming weeks." (See CNET's FAQ on SOPA and today's Reporter's Roundtable.)
Reid's comments came after this week's historic online protest--Wikipedia going dark for a day, alerts appearing on the home page of Google.com and Amazon.com--roiled Washington officialdom and obliterated long-held assumptions about whether it would be politically safe to advance a measure opposed by millions of Internet users.
The danger for the anti-SOPA contingent is that, over time, when this week's outcry recedes into memory, Hollywood and its allies will regroup around a new bill with a different name but only a slightly different approach. The Motion Picture Association of America may have lost this round, but dozens of U.S. senators are still publicly applauding the idea, and, if history is any indication, the MPAA is willing to wait.
"I expect this threat to resurface," said Jerry Moran of Kansas, the first Republican senator to oppose Protect IP.
And some of Hollywood's closest allies are promising that will happen. Protect IP "deserves to be considered," Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said today. Protect IP's author, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said he hopes "to send a bill to the president's desk this year."
For its part, the MPAA sounded unapologetic and unrepentant. "As a consequence of failing to act, there will continue to be a safe haven for foreign thieves (and) American jobs will continue to be lost," MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd said in a statement this morning. (Dodd, clearly not a reliable prognosticator, initially dismissed the protests as "stunts.")
The unrepentant tone was shared by a collection of groups including the American Federation of Musicians, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, the Directors Guild of America, and the Screen Actors Guild. They said in a joint statement that critics of the legislation offered an "onslaught of mistruths" to the public.
Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, Hollywood's favorite House Republican and the author of SOPA, said that he would delay a vote on his legislation--but warned that it was only a delay. The House Judiciary Committee "remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation," said Smith, who counts Hollywood as the top donor to his campaign committee.
Copyright Alliance Executive Director Sandra Aistars said today that "the status quo is unacceptable."
Aistars, whose group counts as members the MPAA, the Business Software Alliance, News Corp, and CNET parent company CBS Corporation, said "meaningful remedies for independent artists and creators [are needed] to effectively combat the mounting problem of rogue Web sites." Aistars did not respond to a request from CNET asking for an elaboration on what "meaningful remedies" meant, and whether that included attempting to block allegedly piratical Web sites, one of the most controversial sections of SOPA and Protect IP.
Of course, wanting to enact legislation isn't the same as actually possessing the political muscle to pull it off. And the sheer numbers involved in this week's protest--the FightForTheFuture.org advocacy group calculates that more than 13 million Internet users were involved in one way or another--will surely make politicians leery.
On the other hand, the most significant impact of Web site blackouts comes with the initial one. The first time Wikipedia goes offline, it's a historic moment. The second or third or fourth time, it's an annoyance.
SOPA and Protect IP, of course, represent the latest effort from the MPAA, the Recording Industry Association of America, and their allies to counter what they view as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially involving offshore Web sites. The bills would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, Internet service providers, and other companies, forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site effectively vanish. The bills are opposed (PDF) by many Internet companies, users, and civil liberties groups.