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SOPA drops hot-button provision

Showbiz execs' info posted online as opposition rallies

The chief sponsor of a major anti-piracy bill pending in the House Judiciary Committee said he plans to remove one of its most controversial provisions.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he’s dropping a section of the Stop Online Piracy Act that would have required Internet providers to block domain name access to foreign sites that traffic in infringing content.

Opposition — ranging from Internet firms to public interest groups — has been fierce. The New York Times reported on Friday that online activist group Anonymous has posted online documents with private information about Time Warner’s Jeff Bewkes and Viacom’s Sumner Redstone, apparently following through on threats made in a series of online videos posted on the web in November to protest the legislation by targeted major media companies. The Times reported that Bewkes has received threatening phone calls and has been flooded with e-mails.

While the vast majority of opponents have not employed those tactics, their criticism of the legislation has sounded alarm over the pending bills, warning that the language of the legislation would severely interfere with the architecture of the Internet and jeopardize innovation and growth. At least for now, their message appears to be far more potent than that of studio, union and other industry backers, which hae sought to win support with the message that the bills are needed to preserve American jobs lost from rampant piracy.In a statement, Smith said he concluded that the SOPA legislation’s backers should remove the domain name access provision “so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision.”

“We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers,” Smith said.

Smith noted that the legislation still contains provisions to “follow the money” — cutting off the funding of foreign sites from ad networks and payment processors. A provision that allows private partiers to bring claims against foreign sites by obtaining a court order to require that ad networks and payment processors stop the money flow remains. The legislation still contains provisions that would require search engines to disable links to such “rogue” sites.

The House Judiciary Committee adjourned in December before the completion of a markup hearing on the bill. It was apparent then that the legislation had enough votes to pass out of the committee, but opponents have mounted a fierce effort against the legislation since then, with some vowing to campaign against the bill’s supporters in their re-election races and pressuring web-hosting service GoDaddy to shift its stance from supporter to opponent.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), one of the chief opponents of the legislation, has proposed an alternative bill that would attempt to combat piracy via the International Trade Commission. He also has scheduled a Jan. 18 hearing before the House Oversight Committee, which he chairs, to examine the impact of domain name and search blocking on cybersecurity.

On Thursday, the chief sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), said he would propose that the domain name blocking provision of the bill be studied before implementation. Nevertheless, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) indicated that even if the provision were removed, he still would be opposed to the legislation because of other aspects of the bill. And as opponents flood congressional offices with e-mails and phone calls, there are signs that some previous supporters are reconsidering. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a co-sponsor of the legislation, said on Friday that he would not vote for final passage of the legislation “as currently written.” House Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that he would call for a cloture vote on Jan. 24, but there has been pressure on him to postpone.

Meanwhile, it is doubtful that even removing the domain name provision will win over Internet firms like Google, Facebook and Twitter. Markham Erickson, executive director of the NetCoalition, which includes those companies, said that “significant amendments still need to be made,” as they remained opposed to provisions like search filtering and the right of private entities to take action.

Michael O’Leary, senior executive VP for global policy and external affairs at the MPAA, said the org believes that the changes to the legislation “will help forge an even broader consensus for legislative action.”

“We continue to believe that DNS filtering is an important tool, already used in numerous countries internationally to protect consumers and the intellectual proprty of businesses with targetd filters for rogue sites,” he said. “We are confident that any close examination of DNS screening will demonstrate that contrary to the claims of some critics, it will not break the Internet.”

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