April 11, 2021

White House Weighs In on SOPA

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In a statement released on January 14, three top White House technology officials weighed in on the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and other similar bills currently being debated in Congress, coming out firmly against a controversial provision involving website blocking, and saying that “the important task of protecting intellectual property online must not threaten an open and innovative Internet.”

Though the statement stopped short of asserting that President Obama would veto legislation that includes provisions the administration doesn’t support, it did provide the clearest picture yet of the administration’s stance on such legislation.

In particular, the statement said that “[p]roposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), an opponent of SOPA, had said in a statement on Friday that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) “announced that he will remove the DNS blocking provision from his legislation.”

The White House statement—authored by Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget; Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer; and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff—was specifically crafted in response to two anti-SOPA petitions that the administration had received.

The statement did not rule out all anti-piracy legislation, however, and it called on “all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year…while staying true to the principles outlined” in the statement. But the administration also encouraged “private parties, including both content creators and Internet platform providers working together, to adopt voluntary measures and best practices to reduce online piracy.”

SOPA is mainly aimed at combating copyright infringement by foreign websites. Enforcement methods described in the bill, including domain-name and search engine blocking, have drawn criticism in and out of library circles.

Bills in process
Exactly when different versions of SOPA will come up for a vote in the House and Senate is unclear. Rep. Issa announced Friday that he had received assurances from Majority Leader Cantor that lawmakers would “continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote.” SOPA had been due to begin markup in the House tomorrow, January 17.

The Senate is due to vote on a similar bill, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), on January 24.

Rep. Issa is also a cosponsor of a bill that has been touted as an alternative to SOPA and PIPA, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, which currently is in committee.

As LJ reported last month, the release of the draft OPEN Act was welcomed by the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), which is made up of the American Library Association (ALA), the Association of Research Libraries, and the Association of College & Research Libraries. The LCA had first publicly expressed concern about SOPA in November.

Last week, the ALA’s Washington office released a “PIPA, SOPA and the OPEN Act Reference Guide” [PDF], which characterizes the bills as “operat[ing] under the assumption that there is a problem that needs to be solved—and the best, or only, way to combat online infringement overseas is with more law targeted at foreign websites. These bills have the potential to negatively impact fundamental library principles.”

SOPA strike
Many popular websites, including the social news website Reddit and the English-language site of Wikipedia, will be going dark for 24 hours on January 18 as part of an anti-SOPA protest. (A list of announced sites that are participating is here.)

The Reddit team, in a blog post on January 10, wrote that blacking out the site was “a hard choice, but we feel focusing on a day of action is the best way we can amplify the voice of the community.”

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David Rapp About David Rapp

Associate editor David Rapp previously covered technology for Library Journal.