SOPA: Co-sponsors Defect, Backtrack After Blackout

Cockroaches scatter as spotlight is pointed at Internet censorship bill




Lawmakers have begun to jump ship following a day of protest against the draconian internet legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate version of the bill, the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

As many major websites such as Wikipedia and Google participated in a “blackout” in opposition to the bills, several former co-sponsers of the legislation have reversed their positions and retreated away from the bills.

Reports of flood of calls to the offices of elected representatives, as well as widespread media coverage seems to be having a significant effect.

Among those to disavow the bill today was influential Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a former co-sponsor who now says that the legislation should be completely re-written to addresses the concerns “raised by all sides.”

“I have been a co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP Act because I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China,” Rubio said in a Facebook post.

“As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.”

“However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies.” the Senator added.

South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint also proclaimed opposition to the legislation, commenting via Twitter “I support intellectual property rights, but I oppose SOPA & PIPA. They’re misguided bills that will cause more harm than good.”

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-.N.J.) separately tweeted that he, too, had concerns and is “working to ensure critical changes are made to the bill.”

Arizona Republican Representative Ben Quayle, another former co-sponsor, has also withdrawn support of the House bill, along with Nebraska Congressman Lee Terry.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a libertarian leaning Republican, went as far as changing his Facebook profile photo to a logo of the words SOPA and PIPA crossed out, while also disabling key functions on his Facebook wall, preventing guest posts.

“These bills give the federal government unprecedented power to censor Internet content and will stifle the free flow of information and ideas,” Amash wrote. “Demand that Congress and the president keep the Internet open and free.”

A further six Republican Senators penned a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in which they stated:

“We have increasingly heard from a large number of constituents and other stakeholders with vocal concerns about possible unintended consequences of the proposed legislation, including breaches in cybersecurity, damaging the integrity of the Internet, costly and burdensome litigation, and dilution of First Amendment rights,”

The letter was signed by Senators. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) – both Grassley and Hatch had previously co-sponsored PIPA in the Senate.

The authors of the legislation refuse to back down, however. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said Wikipedia’s protest was a “publicity stunt” that promotes “fear instead of facts.”

“Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy,” he said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who authored the Senate bill, maintained that protesters were “misunderstanding” the legislation.

“The PROTECT IP Act will not affect Wikipedia, will not affect reddit, and will not affect any website that has any legitimate use,” he said.

“Perhaps if these companies would participate constructively, they could point to what in the actual legislation they contend threatens their websites, and then we could dispel their misunderstandings. That is what debate on legislation is intended to do, to fine-tune the bill to confront the problem of stealing while protecting against unintended consequences.” he added.

As things stand a test vote on the legislation will go ahead in the Senate on Tuesday, despite increasing requests to further delay the decision. Lamar Smith recently postponed a vote to send SOPA to the chamber floor until next month.

A breakthrough for opponents of the legislation was made last week when Smith and Leahy agreed to remove a provision in the legislation that would have allowed the government to seek a court order to block access to the domain names, or Web addresses, of websites they believed were pirating copyrighted material.

As we have detailed in depth, the definitions of ‘facilitating’ ‘copyright infringement’ in the bills are so broad that entire web sites could come under threat of being effectively seized and shut down for merely displaying one offending hyperlink.

Some felonies under SOPA, such as “streaming copyrighted content” – again the terminology is vague at best – carry a five-year prison sentence.

As we reported back in October, the bill will also force compliance from search engines and Internet Service Providers, demanding they create a list of banned web sites and prevent their users from accessing the sites. Advertising networks, payment providers and credit card processors would also be ordered to stop doing business with any site deemed to be acting unlawfully under SOPA.

“…all those entities are compelled to comply. Indeed, the bill imposes stiff penalties on anyone who doesn’t, and offers immunity to ad networks and payment processors that follow orders. As such, SOPA is chock-full of incentives for ISPs, content-hosting sites and other such entities to go along with the government’s demands.” writes Omar El Akkad of The Globe & Mail.

SOPA is not legislating for anything that the government isn’t already engaged in carrying out. The Department of Homeland Security has already seized dozens of web sites merely for linking to copyrighted material, despite the fact that such material isn’t even hosted on the web site itself, a process the Electronic Frontier Foundation has criticized as, “Blunt instruments that cause unacceptable collateral damage to free speech rights.” Most recently, the DHS seized a popular music blog and shut down the web site for over a year on charges it now admits were completely false.

Under SOPA, even domain name server (DNS) forwarding, a core functionality of the internet as a whole, would have to be suspended for any site accused of “piracy”. Enacting the legislation would constitute a massive internet-wide operation.

Furthermore, experts contend that anyone who is determined to download pirated content from a forbidden site could easily switch their computer settings to bypass SOPA restrictions, by using a foreign-based DNS, for example.

In short, intense lobbying from the entertainment industry, urging the government to protect copyrighted content, is being used as yet another front by an establishment hell bent on restricting freedom of speech and the free flow of information to ramp up a long running crack down on the internet.

As we have ceaselessly documented, legislation is being drafted left, right and center in an effort to ensure complete control over cyberspace.

Lawmakers like Senator Joe Lieberman have teamed up with Department of Homeland Security officials to push draconian legislation in an effort to mimic the Communist Chinese system of policing the Internet.

Legislation such as The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act is written around the notion that big government decides who can say what on the web. The nightmare vision provides the President the power to shut down the entire Internet with a figurative flick of a switch.

Simultaneously, legislation such as The Cybersecurity Act and the “Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act of 2011″ propose allowing the federal government to tap into any digital aspect of every citizen’s information without a warrant. Banking, business and medical records would be wide open to inspection, as well as personal instant message and e mail communications.

The push to restrict and control the internet, as we have repeatedly warned for years, is being pursued by an elite few petrified at the fact that alternative and independent sources of information are now eclipsing corporate and government controlled outlets in terms of audience share, trust, and influence.

Regulation and censorship of the Internet would not only represent a massive assault on free speech, it would also create new roadblocks for e-commerce and as a consequence further devastate the economy. The move, which will not end with SOPA and PIPA, should be met with fierce opposition at every level and from across the political spectrum.


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’, and He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

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