Why Both Sides of the Piracy Issue Applaud SOPA Delay (Analysis)

The Stop Online Piracy Act takes aim at foreign websites pirating American intellectual property.

You might think a bill to stop foreign websites from pirating American intellectual property would sail through Congress. You would be wrong. The legislation currently being considered by Congress has become a political hot potato with both proponents and opponents building support and both sides  claiming victory in the latest round.

The Motion Picture Association of America had praise on Friday for the House Judiciary Committee after consideration of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill was abruptly ended after a little more than a day of consideration.

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The association which represents the major Hollywood studios and TV networks commended the legislators for voting down by a wide margin a whole series of proposed amendments that would dilute the bill which they say will help stop foreign web sites from stealing their intellectual property.

"We applaud Chairman Lamar Smith, Ranking Member John Conyers and the members of the House Judiciary Committee for taking up and showing such strong bi-partisan support for legislation to curb online content theft and counterfeiting by foreign rogue websites, which are costing hundreds of thousands of American jobs and billions in lost wages and benefits,” said MPAA senior executive vp Michael O’Leary in a statement.

However, opponents of the bill – led by Google and many in the technology industry – also found reason to be pleased. Instead of seeing H.R. 3621 bulldozed through, it has now been put on hold. The major strategy of those who don’t like this legislation has become to delay it, hoping that in the coming election year it will die a slow death.

Whether it is revived next week or next year – and betting is now that it won’t resurface until after the holiday break – one thing is becoming clear. This is a great issue over which politicians can raise funds from donors on both sides – which is exactly what is likely to happen in the next few weeks and months.

This bill has strong support from the MPAA, the drug industry, guilds and unions and others, all of whom regularly give to their favorite politicians.

It has growing opposition from Google, eBay and a long list of technology companies, Internet companies, free speech advocates and others who don’t like pirates, but feel this bill goes too far in giving the government and copyright holders the power to shut down websites just because they believe they are mainly about piracy.

No matter what happens, this is a fight that is going to go on for months. In a best case scenario for supporters of the bill, the judiciary committee would pass the bill out of committee and sometime early next year it would come up for a vote in the House. Assuming that is successful, SOPA would then have to wait for a similar bill to make its way through the U.S. Senate.

That is a whole other battle.

While the Senate version known as the Protect IP Act (s. 968) has already been passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, it has run into stiff opposition on its way to the full Senate.

Under Senate rules only one Senator has to oppose a bill to put it on the slow track. In this case there are several Senators, most notably Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has put a hold on the bill.

Supporters in the Senate, seeing a tough battle ahead, have sent out the word that they are not going to bother to strap on their armor and enter the fray until after the House passes a version; so that their vote will provide closure to the process. In other words, until the House acts, the Senate won’t even get serious about a vote.

What that means is that there will be no quick resolution. The Senate will have to go through a process that involves a vote by at least 60 Senators to cut off a potential filibuster after which it will for the first time vote on the actual legislation. Most experts believe the soonest that could happen would be March, and possibly later.

In the meanwhile, both sides are active in marshalling support. The MPAA and its allies have rallied guilds, unions, studios and various associations to create a grass roots campaign designed to show that piracy hurts the working people of America, not just the bosses.

Opponents, meanwhile, have built support among bankers (who don’t want to be forced to cut off payment processing to web sites designated as pirates), Internet providers (phone and cable companies and others who would have to police the pirates), search engines (who would be asked to cut off listings of pirates), advertising insert companies (who sell ads on the sites) and freedom of information advocates who believe this bill goes too far in curbing freedom of speech protections they believe are what makes the Internet an innovation machine which has helped create new opportunities.

So this will not be simple or quick, but it will be hard fought and expensive.

For former Sen. Chris Dodd, new head of the MPAA, it has become a defining issue of his young tenure. The one thing everyone from studios to networks to record companies can agree on is that they want everyone who enjoys their creative work to pay their fair share to use it; and they hate pirates.

Google has already been openly attacked in some Congressional committee hearings but clearly is not backing off. It will use its considerable financial and political muscle to keep delaying and trying to dilute the legislation.

President Obama has indicated that if the legislation makes it to his desk, he will probably sign it. The question then is will it get to him, what will be left of the intent after it goes through a committee that will have to blend together the House and Senate versions,  and perhaps most telling:  how will it impact fundraising for his presidential campaign?

That is a question it may take until next November to answer; right along with whether or not this legislation will ever reach his desk.