White House to respond to petition urging veto of online piracy bill

An online petition urging President Obama to veto a controversial anti-online piracy bill has passed the number of signatures required to receive an official response.

The petition, which is on the White House's official "We the People" page, urges the president to veto the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and "any other future bills that threaten to diminish the free flow of information." 

The petition now has more than 34,000 signatures. It needed 25,000 before Jan. 17 for the White House to issue an official response.

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SOPA would empower the Justice Department and copyright holders to demand that search engines, Internet providers and ad networks cut off access to sites "dedicated" to copyright infringement.

The legislation is aimed at blocking foreign sites such as The Pirate Bay that offer illegal copies of movies, music and television shows with impunity.

A broad coalition, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Hollywood, the recording industry and organized labor, strongly back the legislation. They argue online copyright infringement is hurting businesses and destroying jobs.

But consumer groups and major Web companies, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook, warn SOPA would stifle innovation and censor free speech.

The White House petition, which gained popularity on the discussion site Reddit, includes a link to an image of a person behind bars and the headline, "This is a copyrighted image."

The link is meant to demonstrate that websites should not be blocked just because their users post copyrighted material.

"It would be ridiculous for an [Internet service provider] to block the entire whitehouse.gov domain on court order because a single user posted a link," the petition author wrote. "It is difficult for any web administrator to know which links to copyrighted material are done with permission."

SOPA would require a court to determine that a website is "dedicated" to copyright infringement, so it is unlikely that a single infringing link would result in a website being blocked. 

“This petition is irrelevant because it does not apply to the Stop Online Piracy Act," House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), SOPA's sponsor, said in an email. "Contrary to what the petition says, the Stop Online Piracy Act specifically targets foreign criminals that steal America’s products and profits. This bill applies to foreign illegal websites, not lawful domestic sites like whitehouse.gov. And it requires a court order before any action is taken, not just a claim by an individual as some critics wrongly assert." 

"The petition is meaningless because it is based on fiction rather than facts. This bill protects America’s innovations, preserves American jobs and promotes the American economy,“ Smith said.

President Obama has not yet taken a position on the bill, but Smith told The Hill last week he expects the president will sign it.

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the legislation when Congress is back in session. The Senate version of the bill, the Protect IP Act, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in May and will come up for a vote in the full chamber next month.