In a potential problem for the movie industry, the White House has issued a warning about the anti-piracy legislation in Congress.
While agreeing that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem and requires a serious legislative response, it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”
The response appeared Saturday morning on the White House blog. Citing the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and the Online Protection and Digital ENforcement Act (OPEN), it insisted 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.”
Also read: House Committee Delays Vote on Controversial Anti-Piracy Act
Any new legislation “must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity,” it said.
Provisions covering online intermediaries such as advertising networks, payment processors or search engines “must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.”
It added that online piracy is a problem that hurts the American economy and is not just a matter for legislation. “We expect and encourage all private parties, including both content creators and Internet platform providers working together, to adopt voluntary measures and best practices to reduce online piracy.”
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on SOPA; however, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) on Friday night announced that it has been postponed following assurances that anti-piracy legislation will not move to the House floor this Congress without a consensus.
The hearing was to examine the impact of Domain Name Service (DNS) and search engine blocking on the internet. However, Friday night House Judicial Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) announced that he will remove the DNS blocking provision from his legislation.
“Although SOPA, despite the removal of this provision, is still a fundamentally flawed bill, I have decided that postponing the scheduled hearing on DNS blocking with technical experts is the best course of action at this time,” Issa said.
"I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House,” Issa said in a statement. “Majority Leader (Eric) Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote.”
In December, Issa released his own alternate version of SOPA. His version was toned down in an attempt to attract the tech community, but still inflamed Hollywood for not going far enough.
The White House statement was in response to several petitions (here and here) asking the administration to veto any anti-piracy legislation. It was crafted by Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at Office of Management and Budget, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff.
“Moving forward,” it said, “we will continue to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis on legislation that provides new tools needed in the global fight against piracy and counterfeiting, while vigorously defending an open Internet based on the values of free expression, privacy, security and innovation.”
(Update: In light of the White House's position, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce later on Saturday called for immediate action on rogue-site legislation.
("Every day, consumers are duped, jobs are stolen, and businesses are crippled due to foreign rogue websites," the Chamber said in a statement. "That is why the Chamber strongly supports both the PROTECT IP Act in the Senate and the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House — both are narrowly tailored bills designed to target the worst of the worst offenders. Given the broad consensus that this issue needs to be addressed, it is time to come together and adopt strong legislation that ends the ability of foreign criminals to prey on innocent consumers and steal American jobs.")
Fiercely supported by Hollywood, the legislation has been fiercely opposed by a coalition of high-tech companies such as Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Twitter and eBay, who have charged that the effort to crack down on illegal downloads are too far-reaching and akin to censorship.Related Articles: House Committee Delays Vote on Controversial Anti-Piracy Act Online Piracy Act Dead? Nancy Pelosi, Darrell Issa Both Come Out Against (Updated) Wyden, Issa Release Alternate Anti-Piracy Bill, But Hollywood's Not Biting