Media’s old guard stands arrayed against the new guard with the politicians caught in the middle, their close proximity to movie and music industry lobbyists (amongst others) set in relief against the rising tide of independent media. It’s a narrative that could only have been written in this Cyber Age where information is only a click away, and every official version of events can be scrutinized and debated from nearly any angle.
And so it is with internet totalitarian Rep. Lamar Smith‘s (R-TX) bill Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate’s equivalent Protect IP Act (PIPA). The latter might not be as well known amongst those not deeply involved in the debate amongst major American tech companies (Google, Facebook, Yahoo!), independent media (Reddit as well as here at Death and Taxes), Congress and copyright holders, but that is because Lamar Smith’s House bill has been the driving force. PIPA will have its details ironed out if and when SOPA is passed in the House.
Chief PIPA sponsors Patrick Leahy (D-VT), however, has now publicly stated that he is having reservations about the bill and intends to offer an amendment demanding further study into the ramifications of ISP blockades of websites, both in matters relating to free speech and its financial effects.
A portion of Leahy’s official statement reads:
It is also through this process that I and the bill’s cosponsors have continued to hear concerns about the Domain Name provision from engineers, human rights groups, and others. I have also heard from a number of Vermonters on this important issue. I remain confident that the ISPs – including the cable industry, which is the largest association of ISPs – would not support the legislation if its enactment created the problems that opponents of this provision suggest. Nonetheless, this is in fact a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it.
This is encouraging news. One would actually expect this sort of response from Senator Al Franken (D-MN) instead, but to date Franken has remained a firm co-sponsor of Protect IP.
It would seem that Leahy is feeling the political and electoral force brought to bear by major American tech companies, as well as the surprising voice of Reddit and independent media, which informs the populace in the absence of coverage by major TV networks, who officially support SOPA and Protect IP.
And though SOPA and PIPA may be political or electoral kryptonite at the moment, there must be senators and representatives in Congress who aren’t simply responding to popular displeasure, but to the realization that this uprising is not at all about preserving piracy for all, but concern over how the bill might well be used in the future to blockade websites at the domain name system (DNS) and financial levels. That it is not how it will be used in the immediate, but down the road by a government that has shown decade after decade that laws can be perverted into the mechanisms of civil liberty violations.