Anti-piracy legislation opposed by ASNE stalls

The Stop Online Piracy Act had bipartisan support and its eventual passage appeared inevitable on Dec. 14, when ASNE became the first journalism organization to oppose the bill. By this past weekend, the bill's progress had stalled, leaving almost no chance that it would pass in its original form.

On Dec. 14, ASNE sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee opposing the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill with bipartisan support backed by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and several other traditional Capitol Hill lobbying powerhouses. Although SOPA is intended to provide copyright owners with the ability to combat foreign online piracy, it goes well beyond that, potentially stifling innovation and violating the free speech and due process rights of legitimate, domestic websites.

By this past weekend, the bill's progress had stalled, leaving almost no chance that it would pass in its original form. Last Friday, SOPA's main sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), promised to amend its most controversial provision, and on Saturday both the White House and House leadership signaled their opposition to the bill in its present incarnation.

From bipartisan support to a bipartisan scramble to oppose a bill whose passage had seemed all but inevitable a month earlier.

We're not suggesting causality between ASNE's letter and the brick wall that SOPA ran into. The fact that ASNE was the first journalism organization to announce its opposition to the bill was merely a reflection of a wave of revulsion against the overbroad legislation that was just beginning to build. That grassroots energy was activated by organizations that are immersed in Internet culture and know how to make it work to their advantage in a way that Capitol Hill is just beginning to wake up to.

With SOPA having trouble making its way out of committee in the House, attention turns to the Senate, where Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a cloture vote on Jan. 24 on the companion bill to SOPA, the Protect IP Act (PIPA). A growing number of senators have come out in opposition to PIPA in its present form, including several of the bill's co-sponsors, and have asked Reid to pull it from the calendar until it can be improved.

The fact that both SOPA and PIPA now face long odds hasn't put a damper on the energy animating the opposition. In fact, a number of major websites — including Google, Wikipedia and craigslist —have joined on online protest today against PIPA and SOPA, and over 1,500 members of the New York tech community signed up to appear at an emergency meetup this afternoon outside the Manhattan offices of Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

ASNE member op-ed pages continue to oppose the bills in their current form, with the editorial boards of the Buffalo News, The Los Angeles Times, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the latest to weigh in. Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) have introduced the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, which they are touting as an anti-piracy alternative to SOPA and PIPA.

ASNE finds itself in an unusual situation on SOPA and PIPA. Although we represent content creators, we continue to believe it would be best for Congress to pull back for now and consider other options that are more narrowly targeted to the goal of preventing copyright infringement.