SOPA on the ropes: Congress shelves controversial anti-piracy law

Criticism from the White House is followed by a postponement of the Stop Piracy Act, which was seen affecting NZ business websites. But InternetNZ warns the battle is not over yet.

Following heated opposition - including strong criticism from two key advisers to President Obama on Saturday NZ time - Congress has shelved the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). But InternetNZ boss Vikram Kumar told NBR the battle is far from over, with related legislation still before the US Senate.

In a statement posted to a US government website overnight, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman Darrell Issa said a hearing on the bill scheduled for Wednesday had been postponed.

Mr Issa (a Republican) said Leader of the House of Representatives Eric Cantor (also Republican) "has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote.”

Some US media have interpreted this as an indefinite shelving.

The announcement came just hours after the congressman who tabled the legislation, Texas congressman Lamar Smith, agreed to remove a portion of the bill that would allow sites to be deleted from the Internet’s domain name system (DNS).

In a guest post for NBR yesterday, InternetNZ chief executive Vikram Kumar warned domain name blocking, plus mechanisms to block search and ad service links from the likes of Google, could be used to effectively disable sites hosted in New Zealand and elsewhere that were accused of piracy or counterfeiting by US companies. Ironically, it would also wreck havoc on security systems within the DNS structure that helped users ensure they were visiting a genuine site.

In a statement, the White House warned that the heavy-handed legislation would "encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing."

President Obama holds veto power over legislation based by Congress (the House of Representatives and the Senate) which can only be over-ridden by a two-thirds majority.

SOPA opera not over yet, Internet NZ boss warns
InternetNZ's Mr Kumar - whose NBR SOPA post was picked up by high-profile North America privacy campaigner Michael Geist - was cautiously optimistic about the legislation being put on hold.

"That's good news but not a full stop to the ongoing tussle between corporate greed and the open Internet. SOPA could yet come back, PROTECT IP continues in the Senate, and bipartisan alternatives will no doubt emerge," Mr Kumar told NBR this morning.

Mr Issa also noted that PROTECT IP was still alive in the Senate. The upper house is also expected to introduce a similar bill to SOPA in a couple of weeks. (The US legislative process often involves the House and the Senate passing their own versions of a law, then hashing out a compromise to present to the President for signing.)

"The good thing is that US lawmakers are likely to look at SOPA and find ways that do less damage to the Internet and Internet intermediaries," Mr Kumar said.

"They will then have the backing of the US President and technology industry. The bad news is that the threat to non-US websites will not go away."

Not only PROTECT IP but other replacement Acts to SOPA which will continue with the goal of shutting down "rogue" websites in New Zealand and other countries, the Internet NZ CEO cautioned.

"Sooner or later there will be a SOPA-like law in the US, albeit less damaging to an open Internet. Also, Hollywood and the others will continue to push their protection agenda via trade deals such as TPP."

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