LAS VEGAS -- With the odds perhaps still against them, two lawmakers who are fighting the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills took their case to the world's largest consumer electronics gathering.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and U.S. Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.), have been championing alternative legislation, the Open Act, against two bills that they believe will radically alter the Web .
"This is going to turn websites into Web cops," said Wyden, of the two bills. SOPA is being pushed in the House of Representatives; PIPA is similar legislation in the U.S. Senate.
Instead of "three guys in a garage" launching a Web-based business "you're going to be three people with an upstairs full of lawyers telling you whether or not you are going to be able to operate a Web site."
The Consumer Electronics Association, which runs CES, is a leading opponent of SOPA. The fight over this particular bill is part of a long-running battle in Washington between content producers and large parts of the IT industry over how Congress should go about protecting copyright.
SOPA, in particular, has generated an outpouring of protest over provisions that would allow ISPs to cut off access to infringing Web sites. Critics warn of censorship.
Wyden, who is sponsoring an alternative bill with Issa, said his side "has been fighting above our weight" and argues that the battle is "moving into the last rounds."
He was referring to the 41 Senators that have agreed to co-sponsor PIPA. Hearings are planned later this month.
But Wyden, meeting with press here at CES, said "there is tremendous support growing for our side," particularly at the grassroots level .
SOPA supporters say their bill is directed at foreign rogue websites, said Wyden. "Nobody is for foreign rogue websites," he said.
The Issa and Wyden bill, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade ( Open Act ) would shift the enforcement process against infringing sites to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) instead of federal courts. The bill would expand the ITC's authority to handle copyright infringement cases.
Issa said such a move would deliver "low cost, high reliability and predictability." SOPA will bring cases to district courts "all over the place" and offer "very little continuity," he argued.
Issa also said that the Open Act gives the ITC the ability to "follow the money," issue injunctions, and get the cooperation of credit card and other payment processors to cut off funds to infringers.
Gary Shapiro, the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, said SOPA supporters have "taken on the Netcitizens of the world and they are very upset." He painted SOPA as part of pattern of Congress to give in to content lobbyists.
The criminal sanctions that have been put on copyright issues "is much worse than stealing physical products," said Shapiro, adding, "30,000 American lives were destroyed by RIAA lawsuits."
Shapiro was referring to the Recording Industry Association of America, which, coincidentally, had representatives standing outside the press conference at CES to intercept reporters.
Mitch Glazier, the senior executive vice president of RIAA, dismissed the Open Act's alternative approach to using the ITC. "When you are a property owner and want to vindicate your rights, you do that in the U.S. courts," said Glazier. "Can you imagine sending voting rights, or other property rights, to an administrative agency?"
Glazier also, indirectly, disputed Issa's contention that the ITC process would be cheaper, and said the cases will have to be fought in Washington. Content producers will have to hire trade attorneys who represent "the most expensive bar in the country," he said.
The Open Act "would exclude every small copyright owner," he said.
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Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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