By Jennifer Martinez
Moving the Stop Online Piracy Act through the House won’t be a slam-dunk for Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith.
In fact, some members are already attempting to block the Texas Republican’s shot.
Not only does Smith’s bill face fierce opposition from Google, Facebook and other Web stalwarts in Silicon Valley, but influential members from his own party say they fear the legislation would cause substantial damage to the Internet as we know it. One Judiciary Committee member, Southern California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, even plans to introduce a competing bill in the coming days.
While some lawmakers don’t rule out the prospect of a compromise, they say the bill won’t get far if Smith tries to push it forward without incorporating some changes proposed by the tech industry.
“It would garner a real fight on the floor if it was brought up in its current form,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), another Judiciary member, said in an interview. “It’s not going to be a slam-dunk. We have to get this one right — there’s a lot on the line.”
But will a handful of committee members be able to slow down the fast-moving bill?
Smith doesn’t appear to think so.
The Judiciary Committee is charging along on SOPA and aiming to mark up the bill on Dec. 15, according to an industry source. The committee declined to confirm the date of the markup, but said it is working with members and stakeholders to address legitimate concerns about the legislation.
“That might be a tipoff that indeed the chairman thinks he has enough votes” to pass the bill out of committee, said Jeff Silva, an analyst with Medley Global Advisors. “That’s a big step, but that’s still a long way to go, given all the complicated political factors from the different factions.”
A Judiciary aide also noted that 25 House members — 14 Republicans and 11 Democrats — have signed on to co-sponsor the bill despite a few vocal opponents.
Smith has vowed to pass his legislation against websites that peddle illicit digital copies of movies, music, TV shows and other content and counterfeit goods.
“Doing nothing is not good enough,” Smith said in a statement. “It’s time to stop making excuses for illegal activity and start protecting America’s intellectual property.”
But critics of the bill gained a powerful ally in their corner. In a response to a constituent’s question about the bill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted last week that Congress needs to “find a better solution than SOPA.”
“I am fully supportive of the need to pass legislation in this Congress to combat intellectual piracy, specifically dealing with rogue digital theft sites,” Pelosi later said in a statement. “It is incumbent on the parties that are concerned by the current proposal to offer changes that would effectively deal with piracy. We must work together for an effective solution.”
The combination of Pelosi’s and Issa’s political influence could sway other House members who are on the fence about lending their support to the bill in its current form.
With concerns being raised from powerful companies and lawmakers so late in the year, the future of the bill doesn’t look too bright. The election next year will add another layer of obstacles for copyright legislation to get through, but lawmakers could seize on the issue as a fundraising opportunity, according to Silva.
“It sounds like a recipe for a stalemate,” Silva said. “You look at the divisions and the strange bedfellows; it’s a recipe for no legislation going through this year, and it might be difficult next year with the election.”
Issa told POLITICO in a statement that while SOPA is “well intentioned,” it “would cause far too much collateral damage to the Internet.”
“The solution needs to be focused on giving owners of copyrighted material new tools to attack piracy without disrupting an Internet framework that has allowed Web companies to grow and innovate,” he continued.
The political opposition to the bill in Congress is diverse. Eleven House members — including Silicon Valley Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas — echoed the same issues with the bill in a letter sent to Judiciary Committee leaders recently.
It’s no surprise that Silicon Valley’s representatives in D.C. would be touting the line of the companies in their districts.
But the disapproval of Paul, dubbed the “godfather” of the tea party movement, may create more waves for the bill. Paul is known to crusade for strong property rights — either on the Web or in the physical world. The Tea Party Patriots and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) have already voiced concern over SOPA’s sister in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act, but Paul’s dissent could persuade other House tea party members to take the same stance.
The bill’s impact on future Web innovation is just one of the concerns Smith will have to address about SOPA. Google’s copyright counsel testified that it was one of the company’s major concerns with the bill during a hearing earlier this month.
In addition, Chaffetz and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) both worry a provision in the bill that would require service providers to prevent people from accessing an infringing site via its domain name will disrupt an Internet security protocol called DNSSEC.
This security protocol assigns a digital signature to a website and is used to stop hackers from redirecting people to malicious sites, such as an imposter Bank of America site. Internet engineers including Google Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf and former Department of Homeland Security official Stewart Baker have sounded the alarm over the legislation’s impact on DNSSEC — and lawmakers are taking notice.
“If there’s anything that jeopardizes that, frankly, we’ve got to find another solution,” said Lungren, chairman of the House Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity Subcommittee and a Judiciary Committee member. “When Stewart Baker tells me he’s concerned, … we at least have to look at this.”
Lungren hopes that another hearing will be held to examine the cybersecurity concerns raised by technical experts and that other committees, including his own panel, get a chance to review this issue. He said other members have told him in conversations that they want to slow down and consider these potential implications of the bill.
“My hope is that we’ll be able to work with both our Judiciary Committee and others to resolve this,” he said. “We have to resolve it before we get to the floor.”
Committee discussions with the tech community about their concerns with the bill are under way, according to Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the Judiciary’s Intellectual Property Subcommittee. The goal of the talks is to separate the “legitimate” concerns from the tech community that need to be addressed from ones “that are more a matter of posturing and hyperbole,” he said.
“My concern is that we get the bill right, not whether or not it’s going to move,” Goodlatte said. “I have every confidence it’s going to move forward.”