Rep. Issa fails to gain traction in push for new anti-online piracy bill

Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) alternative to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has failed to gain traction in Congress, a sign lawmakers are wary of revisiting the piracy issue following the massive Web protests earlier this year. 

The alternative piracy bill, known as the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, has not picked up any additional co-sponsors since Issa introduced it in January.

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Meanwhile, the Judiciary and Ways and Means committees, which have jurisdiction over Issa’s bill, have yet to schedule any hearings or markups on it.

Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group that opposed SOPA, said he thinks the piracy fight is on hold until after the November election.

“I don’t think anyone has the appetite to do much of anything,” Brodsky said.

Issa, one of the leading opponents of SOPA and its Senate counterpart, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), pitched OPEN as an alternative way to curb online copyright infringement without restricting the openness of the Internet.

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.) introduced the OPEN Act in the Senate in December, along with Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

After it was introduced, OPEN quickly won the support of Web giants like Google and Facebook, which warned that tougher anti-piracy measures such as SOPA and PIPA would reduce innovation and stifle free speech.
Congressional leaders delayed action on SOPA and PIPA in January after online protests eroded support for both bills.

SOPA and PIPA would have empowered law enforcement agents and copyright holders to force American websites and Internet providers to block access to foreign sites that pirate media content.

Issa’s bill, in contrast, takes a “follow the money approach.” Rather than trying to purge sites from the Web, the bill would empower the U.S. International Trade Commission to require payment firms such as Visa and PayPal, along with advertising networks, to cut off business with the sites.

The House Oversight chairman created a website, keepthewebopen.com, to promote the bill and allowed users to suggest edits and changes.

Among the 25 co-sponsors of Issa’s bill are a number of high-profile lawmakers from both parties, including House Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), conservative Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and liberal Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).

The bill also has a large backing among lawmakers from California, where Silicon Valley is located. Co-sponsors from the Golden State include Reps. John Campbell (R), Anna Eshoo (D), Mike Honda (D), George Miller (D), Pete Stark (D) and Lynn Woolsey (D).

But with SOPA and PIPA on the shelf, the tech industry is in no hurry to move forward with anti-piracy legislation — and that includes the OPEN Act, sources said.

“Now that the issue has subsided, we aren’t pushing for anything right now,” a technology industry lobbyist who worked to defeat SOPA told The Hill. “We mainly looked at OPEN as an alternative to SOPA. Now that that’s out, we haven’t had a broader conversation on the issue.”

The lobbyist said the technology industry saw OPEN as a bargaining chip to prevent more restrictive legislation.

“It’s not our issue,” the lobbyist said. “How to best go about content protection comes from the content guys.”

But content producers such as movie studios and record labels aren’t pushing for Issa’s legislation, because they have opposed it from the beginning.

“No legitimate Internet service should profit from illegal activity or lead its users to illegal sites. The OPEN Act does nothing to stop this behavior and may even make the problem worse,” the Recording Industry Association of America wrote in a letter to Congress last month.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the author of SOPA, said the “OPEN Act makes the Internet even more open to foreign thieves that steal America’s technology and intellectual property without protecting U.S. businesses and consumers.”

Issa says he plans to continue pushing OPEN, but without any constituency fighting for it, its chances seem slim.

“[House Majority] Leader [Eric] Cantor [R-Va.] has noted that he hopes to build consensus before any plan moves forward,” said Becca Watkins, a spokeswoman for Issa. “As it stands, OPEN remains the only viable proposal in the House that addresses the copyright infringement issues. We will continue to work to build the consensus that the leader has asked for.”

Brodsky said OPEN could come back into the discussion if the entertainment industry tries to push a reworked version of SOPA next year.

But until then, Brodsky doubts the bill will go anywhere.

“And that’s fine. We weren’t that enthralled with OPEN anyway,” Brodsky said.

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