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House committee postpones action on SOPA

Smith says he will consider holding a hearing on the cybersecurity impact of the copyright bill

The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee has postponed further debate on the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) until after Congress' holiday break.

At the urging of some SOPA opponents, Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and committee chairman, said Friday he will consider a hearing or a classified briefing on the bill's impact on cybersecurity. More than 80 Internet engineers and cybersecurity experts have raised security concerns about the bill, which would require Internet service providers and domain name registrars to block the domain names of foreign websites accused of copyright infringement.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, called for both a classified hearing and a public hearing on the cybersecurity issues. In the lone hearing on SOPA, the committee did not hear from security experts and Internet engineers, he said.

"We have deep concerns about what this will do to cybersecurity," Chaffetz said. "I think it would be dangerous for members on this committee to vote on final passage of this bill without having at least one hearing and some clarification" on the security impact.

The bill markup, a hearing in which lawmakers offer amendments, will continue in January, said Smith, the main sponsor of the bill. The markup, which ran from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, was interrupted twice by votes on the House floor Friday.

The committee will have about 30 amendments to consider after it resumes debate on SOPA. Opponents of the bill flooded the committee with amendments in an effort to slow down the committee's march toward approval of the legislation.

Opponents of the bill on the Judiciary Committee include Republicans Chaffetz, Darrell Issa of California and Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, as well as Democrats Zoe Lofgren of California and Jared Polis of Colorado.

The committee, on Thursday, voted down about 20 amendments designed to address concerns from many members of the Internet and digital rights communities.

On Friday, the committee only voted on a couple of amendments, including one offered by Sensenbrenner that would have removed provisions in the bill allowing private copyright holders to seek court orders requiring payment processors and online advertising networks to stop doing business with websites accused of copyright infringement. The committee rejected the amendment in a 20-8 vote.

The bill allows the U.S. Department of Justice to seek similar court orders targeting ad networks and payment processors. The DOJ could also seek court orders barring search engines from linking to allegedly infringing sites, requiring domain name registrars to take down the websites and requiring Internet service providers to block subscriber access to the sites.

The bill gives the DOJ significant power to target overseas websites infringing copyright, Sensenbrenner said. "Enforcement should be a law enforcement function in this area," he said. "We don't give people very many opportunities to sue everybody in the world when law enforcement doesn't do what they want them to do."

Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, said the right for copyright holders to seek court orders is a "key provision" of SOPA. "If you are not going to allow this legal relief, you are severely damaging the bill," he said.

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 grant_gross@idg.com.


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