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Online Protest Over SOPA Helps

Michael W. Macleod-Ball,
First Amendment Advisor,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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January 18, 2012

Today, major tech advocates are dimming their websites in protest over a proposed new law that would result in our government blocking access to websites that contain copyright infringing material. And they’re right to be concerned.

There are two bills pending before Congress — the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) in the Senate — that would not only impact unlawful infringing content, but also a wealth of completely legal content that has nothing to do with online piracy.

We opposed SOPA in its original form mostly because the impact on non-infringing content would violate the First Amendment right to free speech of the owners and authors of that content, as well as the rights of Internet users to access that content. In fact, we were asked to present our views at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee scheduled for today and submitted our testimony in preparation for that hearing. But the hearing was postponed after SOPA’s proponents promised to significantly change the bill and after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor proposed not to bring any bill to the floor for a vote unless it represented a true consensus of those who support and those who oppose SOPA.

Because of those developments over the weekend — and because the White House also issued a statement opposing any bill that would impact First Amendment-protected online content — we are redoubling our efforts to find the compromise that will not only inhibit online infringement of original works of art, but also will truly eliminate online access restrictions to lawful non-infringing content.

So even though we are not dimming our website, we stand with those who are and urge those concerned about open access to the Internet to continue to contact their Members of Congress to voice their opposition to SOPA. There is way to help reduce online infringement without violating the First Amendment rights of online content producers and their readers and users. We’re counting on our elected officials in Congress to do the hard work to figure it out.

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