Early this year, the U.S. Congress appears likely to move forward with two controversial copyright enforcement bills, even with vocal and widespread opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act in the Internet community.
The two bills, SOPA and PIPA for short, appear headed toward approval this year, unless opponents can change the minds of many lawmakers. Dozens of lawmakers have voiced support for the bills, despite reports from digital rights group Fight for the Future that more than 1 million people have sent email messages to Congress in opposition.
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The U.S. Senate is expected to begin floor debate on PIPA shortly after senators return to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 23, and supporters appear to have the votes to override a threatened filibuster by Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and a handful of other lawmakers.
Both bills have strong support in Congress and among some segments of U.S. industry. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Motion Picture Association of America, two powerful trade and lobbying groups, are among the 400-plus organizations supporting the bills. Other supporters include the National Football League, Time Warner, L'Oreal, and the Fraternal Order of Police.
Several supporters of the two bills declined to make predictions, but it's hard to ignore the numbers in Congress so far.
PIPA has 41 co-sponsors in the 100-member Senate. The votes of just 19 more senators would be needed to override a filibuster from Wyden and his allies.
In the House of Representatives, the Judiciary Committee will continue a markup of SOPA when lawmakers return to Washington. During the first three days of the markup in December, lawmakers opposed to SOPA introduced about 20 amendments intended to water down the bill. All of them failed, by roughly two-to-one margins in the committee.
"I'm not very encouraged, quite frankly," said Paul Ferguson, senior threat researcher at Trend Micro, a cybersecurity vendor with concerns about the bills. "There's a lack of technical knowledge here in the legislative process."
Ferguson and other Web security experts have questioned provisions in both bills that would allow court orders forcing Internet service providers to block subscriber access to foreign websites accused of copyright infringement and domain name registrars to stop resolving queries that direct traffic to those sites.
The filtering provisions in both bills would set back the decade-long effort to roll out DNSSEC, a suite of security tools for the DNS, Ferguson said. "It seems like all the technical concerns are just being dismissed out of hand," he said.
The bills would also allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders blocking payment processors and online advertising networks from doing business with foreign sites accused of infringing copyright.
The DOJ-requested court orders could also bar search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites.