January 14, 2012 11:13am PT by Matthew Belloni
White House: Obama Won't Support Piracy Bill That 'Undermines' Online Freedom
Hollywood has a potential new adversary in its effort to pass expansive antipiracy legislation: President Obama.
A message posted on a White House blog on Saturday says that the Obama administration acknowledges the threat that foreign websites pose but it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”
The message comes as the debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and other antipiracy bills heat up. The content industry, supported by Hollywood studios and the MPAA, is pushing for legislation that grants broad powers to shut down foreign websites and intermediaries that provide support to rogue, file-sharing sites that facilitate piracy. Opponents believe the legislation goes way too far, allowing the government to censor free speech online.
The White House's message Saturday comes in response to online petitions cirticizing the proposed law. The White House blog post, penned by chief intellectual property enforcement coordinator Victoria Espinel, chief technical officer Aneesh Chopra, and Howard Schmidt, special assistant to the president and cybersecurity coordinator for national security staff, warned that antipiracy legislation should be "transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation.”
That language suggests the Obama administration will not support the bills in their current form (or even in a way that Hollywood will find acceptable). If so, the move is a key blow to the entertainment industry and MPAA chief Chris Dodd in their effort to pass comprehensive antipiracy reform.
Still, the blog post encouraged bipartisan legal compromise that leads to increased protections. "The Administration calls on all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders while staying true to the principles outlined above in this response."
A Congressional committee was scheduled to take up SOPA on Wednesday but on Friday that hearing was postponed. House majority leader Eric Cantor said on Friday that the legislation wouldn't be brought to the floor for a vote until there is a consensus on what that legislation should look like, making the Obama administration's position even more ominous for the bill's future.
UPDATE: The MPAA has issued a lengthy statement in response to the Obama administration. Here's the most relevant part:
"While we agree with the White House that protection against online piracy is vital, that protection must be meaningful to protect the people who have been and will continue to be victimized if legislation is not enacted. Meaningful legislation must include measured and reasonable remedies that include ad brokers, payment processors and search engines. They must be part of a solution that stops theft and protects American consumers."