Markup over House piracy bill adjourns after marathon debate

The House Judiciary Committee adjourned its markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act on Friday afternoon after spending the previous day and a half in heated debate over the bill's potential impact.

A vocal minority of committee members introduced more than 50 amendments intended to delay and derail the legislation, which would authorize the government and copyright holders to seek court orders forcing search engines and other Web firms to delete links to foreign sites dedicated to copyright infringement.

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But the majority of those amendments were shot down by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and his fellow supporters, who belittled claims the bill would lead to censorship and stifle innovation on the Internet. Still, the delay could add fuel to the grassroots backlash that has been growing online against the bill.

“I am pleased that the unfounded claims of critics of the Stop Online Piracy Act have overwhelmingly been rejected by a majority of House Judiciary Committee members," Smith said.

Among the amendments defeated were attempts to strip the bill's private right of action and exempt educational institutions from its terms.

“The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality. Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts," Smith added. 

The hearing adjourned prior to the day's last series of floor votes, with plans to resume when Congress reconvenes. According to a Judiciary spokesperson, that could be as soon next week or delayed until next year, depending on when House leadership calls the House back into session. They will know with certainty on Monday.

Prior to adjourning, Smith had shown some signs of softening on an amendment from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that would prevent some of the bill's measures from taking effect until a study is performed by cybersecurity experts.

Both Smith and Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.) agreed such a report would be a good thing, if only to clear up misconceptions about the bill's effects. Chaffetz agreed to withdraw his amendment after Smith promised to consider a briefing with cyber experts.

The Friday session therefore ended on a conciliatory note, a considerable departure from the often acrimonious tone struck by lawmakers on both sides of the debate on Thursday, which stretched well past 9 p.m.

Smith initially signaled his intent to plow ahead with the bill regardless of the objections and concerns raised, but a dogged group of opponents lead by Chaffetz and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) debated every amendment earnestly in hopes of ameliorating the legislation.

A prolonged delay would likely advantage the opponents, who must rely on public opinion and the expanding opposition to SOPA from the online community to counter the broad bipartisan support on the Judiciary Committee and the influential interests aligned behind the bill, including the entertainment industry, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and organized labor.

But the legislation still appears likely to pass the Judiciary Committee by a two-to-one margin and will likely head to the floor for a vote early next year.


More from The Hill:
FTC warns domain name expansion poses 'significant threat to consumers'
House cybersecurity bill would establish federal overseer
Rep. Lamar Smith: Setting the record straight on SOPA
Rep. Bob Goodlatte: It’s time to protect America’s entrepreneurs from online piracy