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SOPA Markup: Hail to the Nerds?

Rachel Marshall,
Washington Legislative Office
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December 20, 2011

After more than 12 hours of debate on December 15 and 16 markup for the Stop Online Piracy Act (HR 3261), or SOPA, as it’s better known, about the only clear conclusion is the House Judiciary Committee is not made up of nerds, as member after member on the public record disavowed ever being a nerd. However, according to the opponents of the bill, nerds are exactly what they need in order to ensure this bill does not trample all over the Internet and our First Amendment rights.

The hearing began with an hour-long reading of Chairman Lamar Smith’s (R-Texas) manager’s amendment. As we noted earlier, the amendment makes a number of changes that would help to narrow the amount of lawful content impacted by the takedown orders in SOPA. Unfortunately, the changes don’t go far enough. There is still a chance that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and even search engines will end up removing access to entire websites for containing just the smallest portion of infringing content, thereby also removing content that is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

In the two-day course of the markup, only about half of the 55 amendments submitted were discussed. Most of the beneficial amendments, many of which were proposed by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), were easily defeated by a two-to-one margin. Five amendments did pass on voice votes, though those amendments make only small changes and do not address our main concerns with the bill. The second day came to an abrupt end after Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) requested additional hearings, one classified and one public, in order to hear from “the nerds”: Internet engineers and security experts who were noticeably absent from the initial hearing on SOPA last month. Before calling a temporary adjournment to the markup, Chairman Smith acknowledged that the committee did not have all the facts on the potential impact of the bill and said he would consider holding an additional hearing. It’s not clear what effect, if any, such an additional hearing would have on the formulation of the bill not being considered.

Many opponents of SOPA declared a victory when the markup was delayed, assuming no movement would be made until Congress came back after the New Year. However, the full committee markup is now scheduled to continue at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, December 21. But we also expect the House to leave on its holiday break before then, so it is also possible that the markup will not reconvene until January. In any case, members of the House Judiciary Committee need to hear from their constituents now more than ever. Let them know that there is a way to slow down online piracy without impeding free speech on the Internet. Tell Congress to oppose SOPA and work to find a better solution to stop online piracy without restricting lawful online content.

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