Unbowed by protests, Lamar Smith to move ahead on piracy bill

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) vowed to push forward with his controversial anti-piracy bill on Tuesday as popular websites prepared to go dark in protest.

“I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to send a bipartisan bill to the White House that saves American jobs and protects intellectual property,” Smith said in a statement.

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Smith’s bill, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), would empower the Justice Department and copyright holders to demand that search engines delete links to sites deemed to be “dedicated” to copyright infringement. Ad networks and payment processors would be prohibited from doing business with the sites.

The markup of SOPA was left unfinished in December when the House broke for the holiday recess. Since then, an online movement against the bill has gained strength, culminating Wednesday with a coordinated protest by some of the Web’s most-trafficked sites.

Wikipedia and Reddit will temporarily shut down on Wednesday and display only a message criticizing SOPA. Thousands of smaller websites have also promised to participate.

Google will post a banner opposing the bill, but won’t block access to the search engine. 

Smith dismissed Wikipedia’s blackout as a “publicity stunt” and said his committee would continue the markup of SOPA in February. 

“It is ironic that a website dedicated to providing information is spreading misinformation about the Stop Online Piracy Act,” Smith said in a statement on Tuesday. “The bill will not harm Wikipedia, domestic blogs or social networking sites. This publicity stunt does a disservice to its users by promoting fear instead of facts. Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy.”

The fight over online piracy legislation is also raging in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to bring the Senate version of SOPA, the Protect IP Act, to a vote next Tuesday.

The increasingly contentious fight over piracy legislation has pitted Hollywood and Silicon Valley against each other.

Movie studios, record labels and business groups say legislation is needed to curb online copyright infringement, which is hurting businesses and eliminating jobs.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), one of the leading supporters of piracy legislation, echoed Smith, attacking the protests as “stunts” aimed at turning Web users into “corporate pawns.”

“A so-called ‘blackout’ is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals,” MPAA chairman and former Sen. Chris Dodd said in a statement. “It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this ‘blackout’ to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

But consumer groups and Web companies warn the bills would stifle innovation and censor free speech. They say the legislation would impose an unreasonable burden on websites to police user-generated content and could lead to legitimate websites getting shut down.

The White House also has expressed concern about the potential of piracy legislation to restrict the openness of the Internet. 

“Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small,” the president’s advisers wrote in a statement on Saturday.

President Obama “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday. 


Smith is adamant that SOPA passes that test.

“This bill will not censor the Internet,” he said in Tuesday’s statement. “But it will protect American workers, inventors and job creators from foreign thieves who steal our products, technology and intellectual property.”

In a major concession to the bill’s critics, Smith on Friday dropped a controversial provision that would have required Internet service providers to block infringing websites through a process known as Domain Name System filtering. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the sponsor of the Senate bill, has also said he is willing to re-examine the provision.

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt has compared the site-blocking provision to how China censors political speech online. A Senate Democratic aide expressed confidence that altering the provision would appease the bill’s critics in the upper chamber.

But the concession seems to have done little to sway the bill’s opponents. The Net Coalition, which represents major Web companies including Google, Amazon, Yahoo and eBay, launched a radio and print advertising campaign in eight states on Tuesday to combat the legislation. The ads will target states with competitive congressional races and with members who could play a key role in the legislation’s passage.

Outspoken Protect IP critic Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) told The Hill that even with the changes, the bills pose “clear threats to innovation, economic growth and free speech.”

“Over the past several days, the leading proponents of both PIPA and SOPA have accepted that these proposals contain substantial flaws that require a reconsideration of some of their central elements,” Wyden said.

“For the Senate to consider PIPA next week would be premature and even beyond, it would do great damage to the prospect of achieving an enduring and real agreement that combats copyright infringement without doing lasting harm to the Internet.”

Wyden has steadfastly opposed Protect IP and its predecessor, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, for the past year and a half, and has renewed his pledge to filibuster the bill if Reid brings it to the floor. 

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), also a critic of the legislation, says House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) promised him the chamber would not vote on SOPA unless it has a consensus.

“While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act, I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House,” Issa said in a statement early Saturday morning.

Smith did not mention Issa’s claims in his statement announcing the February markup, and Cantor’s office did not respond to requests for comment about a commitment to Issa.