Opponents of a bill targeting online piracy — but which they say could have far-reaching unintended consequences for Internet censorship — have made progress ahead of a planned web-based protest Wednesday.
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced Friday that he would remove the controversial Domain Name System (DNS) blocking provision from the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), likewise, says that he would also modify the DNS provisions in the Senate companion, Protect IP Act (PIPA).
The DNS provisions, opponents argue, could allow the federal government to shut down entire websites without recourse.
Further, a bipartisan group of senators, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), also asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid(D-Nev.) to delay consideration of PIPA, citing concerns that substantive issues in the legislation have not been addressed.
“PIPA and SOPA would inflict severe harm to the Internet and undermine our national interest,” says Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a chief opponent of the legislation. “The 11th-hour changes that the sponsors of the bills are proposing, and the letter of concern sent by Senator Grassley and others, are proof that both bills require further discussion and study before being considered by the House or the Senate. The DNS provisions in PIPA and SOPA are clearly unacceptable, but they are far from the only problems with the legislation.
“I agree with Senator Grassley and other senators that more time is needed to determine the best course of action that will narrowly target truly ‘rogue’ foreign websites without undermining speech and innovation,” Wyden adds.
Meanwhile, a number of popular websites, including Wikipedia and Reddit, plan to “go dark” on Wednesday to protest SOPA and PIPA.
Administors of Wikipedia, the well-known online encyclopedia, note that this will be the first time they have staged such a protest.
“In making this decision, Wikipedians will be criticized for seeming to abandon neutrality to take a political position. That’s a real, legitimate issue. We want people to trust Wikipedia, not worry that it is trying to propagandize them,” says Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation.
“But although Wikipedia’s articles are neutral, its existence is not. As Wikimedia Foundation board member Kat Walsh wrote on one of our mailing lists recently, We depend on a legal infrastructure that makes it possible for us to operate. And we depend on a legal infrastructure that also allows other sites to host user-contributed material, both information and expression,” Gardner adds. “For the most part, Wikimedia projects are organizing and summarizing and collecting the world’s knowledge. We’re putting it in context, and showing people how to make to sense of it.
“But that knowledge has to be published somewhere for anyone to find and use it. Where it can be censored without due process, it hurts the speaker, the public, and Wikimedia. Where you can only speak if you have sufficient resources to fight legal challenges, or if your views are pre-approved by someone who does, the same narrow set of ideas already popular will continue to be all anyone has meaningful access to,” she says.
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.