All eyes will be on Capitol Hill this morning when the House Judiciary Committee holds a key hearing on the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, which has drawn wide opposition from a variety of groups and companies for its broad language supposedly designed to prevent copyright infringement. The bill, which has been revised a number of times, could have wide-ranging effects on the way the Internet works.
The hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, has a short witness list, and the sole technology company represented on the list is Google, whose policy counsel, Katherine Oyama, will testify. The SOPA bill originally was meant to help stop online piracy. As part of the proposed law, it “allows the Attorney General to seek injunctions against foreign websites that steal and sell American innovations and products.”
However, public interest groups and others have said that SOPA is far too braod and could give law enforcement the authority to shut down virtually any Web site that does business in the United States.
“EFF, Public Knowledge, and the Center for Democracy and Technology have all raised strong objections to SOPA, including concerns that the language in the bill is so broad that it could be used to shut down access to almost any website,” the EFF’s Eva Galperin wrote in a blog post on the hearing.
“Consumer groups have also raised concerns that SOPA could be used to close off online exchanges that provide lower prices for consumers and allow for anti-consumer practices by online service providers. And that’s only the beginning – if made law, this bill would give overreaching rightholders any easy way to threaten innovation, including social media and cloud computing, that consumers count on.”
The SOPA bill has become a lightning rod for people on both sides of the issue, with supporters contending that it will protect U.S. jobs and the rights of copyright holders, while opponents say that it will stifle innovation and give the government and rights holders overly broad powers in regard to potential violations.
A group of large technology companies, including Google, eBay, LinkedIn, AOL and Mozilla, sent a letter to the bill’s sponsors saying that it should not go forward as presently constructed.
“We support the bills’ stated goals — providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign “rogue” websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement or counterfeiting. Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of web sites. We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry’s continued track record of innovation and job-creation, as well as to our Nation’s cybersecurity. We cannot support these bills as written and ask that you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign “rogue” websites dedicated to copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting, while preserving the innovation and dynamism that has made the Internet such an important driver of economic growth and job creation,” the letter says in part.