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Groups still oppose SOPA after proposed amendment

Smith's proposed amendment of the Stop Online Piracy Act still retains several problems, critics say

A proposed amendment to the controversial copyright enforcement bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, has not swayed many opponents to the legislation.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), Public Knowledge, and NetCoalition all voiced opposition Tuesday to Representative Lamar Smith's proposed amendment to the bill, known as SOPA. Smith, a Texas Republican and main sponsor of the bill, offered a 71-page amendment to the bill late Monday, ahead of a Thursday hearing to amend and vote on the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

Smith's amendment attempted to address some criticisms of the bill, which would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to ask for court orders blocking payment processors and online advertising networks from doing business with foreign sites accused of infringing copyright.

SOPA remains "unbalanced" and lacks protections for websites falsely accused of copyright infringements, said Gary Shapiro, CEA's president and CEO. SOPA would allow copyright holders -- most U.S. residents, in Shapiro's estimation -- to file lawsuits aimed at shutting down websites they accuse of infringement, he said during a press briefing. Most Web users have posted something creative online and own a copyright, and under the bill, they could file SOPA complaints against websites, Shapiro said.

SOPA and Protect IP, a similar bill in the Senate, won't pass through Congress, however, because of an uprising of grassroots opposition from voters and Internet users, Shapiro predicted. "I'd like to say CEA had some brilliant strategists here that somehow got millions[m] of Americans to rise up and talk about copyright law," he said. "I've been trying to do that for 30 years and failed."

NetCoalition, an advocacy group with Google, Twitter, eBay and Facebook among its members, commended Smith for attempting to address concerns with SOPA, but said it cannot support his amendment.

The amendment still allows private lawsuits against U.S. Internet companies and would expose large websites to court action if a small portion contains infringing content, NetCoalition said.

Smith's amendment would continue to allow court orders filtering web addresses or blocking domain names, which "should be concerning for internet security experts and human rights activists alike," added Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director at Public Knowledge.

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who has proposed alternative legislation aimed at online piracy, also said he could not support Smith's amendment. Smith's amendment "retains the fundamental flaws of its predecessor by blocking Americans' ability to access websites, imposing costly regulation on Web companies and giving Attorney General Eric Holder's Department of Justice broad new powers to police the Internet," he said in a statement.

Just before CEA's Shapiro talked to reporters about his continued opposition to SOPA, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted a rally for supporters of the bill in a House of Representatives hearing room. More than a dozen companies and organizations spoke in support of the bill, with several displaying counterfeit products purchased from foreign websites.

Among the counterfeit products displayed were cigarettes, watches, athletic shoes, handbags, erectile disfunction drugs, DVDs and golf balls. Many copyright infringers are getting smart, instead of charging US$100 for a $700 handbag, they're now charging $500, said Rob Holmes, CEO of IPCybercrime, an investigations firm that helps copyright holders track down fakes. The higher price makes the fake product look more legitimate, he said.

SOPA would "make our jobs so much easier," Holmes said.

Counterfeit erectile dysfunction drugs are common, said Jack Stohlman, a product protection representative for Eli Lilly. Many fakes contain some active ingredients, but the amount of ingredient isn't regulated. The fake pharmacies "want to make sure you come back and buy from them again," he said.

But the fake pharmacies don't screen buyers for heart problems and other health issues that doctors and legitimate pharmacists would, he added. Men with heart problems risk having heart attacks by taking counterfeit erectile dysfunction drugs, he said.

SOPA would save tens of thousands of U.S. jobs, supporters said. "Isn't this a great day for jobs creation in America?" Representative Bob Goodlate, a Virginia Republican and SOPA cosponsor, said at the Chamber event.

Under the current language in SOPA, DOJ-requested court orders could bar search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites, and require domain name registrars to take down the websites and Internet service providers to block subscriber access to sites accused of infringing.

SOPA would also allow copyright holders to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks and payment processors to stop supporting the alleged infringers if those businesses do not comply with requests from copyright holders. Under the current language, the court orders requested by copyright holders could target U.S. websites and services that enable or facilitate copyright, in addition to foreign websites.

Smith's proposed amendment would clarify that the bill applies only to foreign websites, not U.S. sites, accused of aiding copyright infringement. The amendment takes away language requiring Internet service providers, search engines and other services to redirect Web users who try to access a foreign site accused of infringing copyright, according to a Smith spokeswoman.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is [email protected]


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