The House Judiciary Committee today is debating the major piece of anti-piracy legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and already it is shaping up to be a long day.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) indicated that as many as 65 amendments could be offered to the legislation. Those are expected to come from two of the committee’s chief opponents, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (R-Calif.).
Lofgren already called for the committee to delay its deliberations to give more time to examine Smith’s recent changes to the legislation, unveiled on Monday. She forced the clerk of the committee to read the entirety of Smith’s amended bill, something that took about an hour.
“The point of my concerns is that this is the balkanization of the Internet,” Lofgren said, warning that the legislation would give the government the power to supress free speech, and even suggested that the U.S. would be going down the same road as China and Iran.
That drew a strong rebuke from Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who called such arguments “nonsense” and noted that what the bill would do would be akin to existing efforts to bock child pornography, malware and spam.
Lofgren called for going after the source of piracy, as the legislation requires that payment processors, ad networks, Internet providers and search engines take action (upon court order) to block access and support to sites that traffic in infringing material.
Lofgren “talked about going after the source, but she never talked about the jurisdictional restrictions of going after the source.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) suggested that members of the committee still had not analyzed the technological impact of the legislation, and called for engineering experts to give testimony. “Maybe we ought to ask some nerds what this really does,” he said.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a supporter of the legislation, accused opponents of stall tactics. One fear is that by dragging the debate too far into 2012, it will stall out during an election year.
“If someone thinks a bill of this magnitude is going to stall because we got tired, they got the wrong think coming,” Conyers said.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said that he would vote against the current version of the legislation, while Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said she would vote for it.
There has been expectation among the Hollywood lobby that the bill will gain passage before the committee today — or tomorrow if the debate goes that long.
That, however, is not the end of it. It may be only the beginning.
Reuters columnist Felix Salmon even wrote today that the legislation could become indicative of what is wrong with Washington.
He wrote, in a column titled “Do Any Real People Support SOPA?”, “I guess what I’m asking here is whether the strength of support for SOPA in Washington is an example of the failure of democracy, or whether it’s just another case of a bitterly divided country. I suspect it’s the former, but I really would be interested in finding out about anybody who doesn’t share my views on this subject.”
“It is the clash of the titans, Internet freedom versus intellectual property protection,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), before comparing the debate to the plot of a blockbuster movie.
In fact, the industry has been trying to emphasize the legislation’s effect on jobs, sending video message from rank-and-file workers to members of Congress and engaging in a public awareness campaign on TV and in major papers via the org Creative America. But the opposition has been able to mount a powerful campaign against it, marshaling a strong online campaign that has included bloggers, Internet firms, public interest groups and even the founders of Wikipedia.
Even MPAA chairman Chris Dodd has acknowledged that the legislation has suffered the same “misinformation” fate as healthcare reform and financial reform. In those debates, undoubtedly helped by the complexity of the legislation, the opposition gained the upper hand in characterizing the bills as “death panels” and regulatory overreach.