Suw Charman-AndersonNov 25, 2011 15:41:02 IST
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which is currently wending its way through Congress has met significant resistance from all the usual players: Google, the Electronic Frontier, the American Civil Liberties Union, Twitter and many others. But it now seems that Microsoft, usually a supporter of initiatives to expand copyright law, is quietly opposing it.
Microsoft earns most of its revenue licensing software, so piracy is high on its agenda. Indeed, it has publicly supported the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which is similar to SOPA but more narrowly focused. But CNet has learnt that "its lobbyists are quietly working to alter" SOPA, although doesn't mention how.
The Business Software Alliance, a trade association that counts Microsoft amongst its members, was initially a supporter of SOPA, but it has been forced into an embarrassing volte-face by the tech giant. CNet reports that:
Yesterday, BSA President Robert Holleyman changed his tune, saying in a blog post that SOPA "needs work" and that "valid and important questions have been raised about the bill."
While the wording of SOPA hasn't changed over the last four weeks, the politics have. A person familiar with the situation told CNET that BSA's volte-face came after Microsoft and, to a lesser extent, other members of the trade association had reviewed the bill and informed Holleyman of their displeasure.
With SOPA gathering so much opposition, says Techdirt's Mike Masnick in an epic summation of both bills, there's a temptation to see PIPA as more palatable:
[S]ome in the entertainment industry have seen it as an opportunity to present PIPA as a "compromise." It is not. Both bills have tremendous problems, and they start with the fact that neither bill will help deal with the actual issues being raised.
PIPA has many of the same provisions as SOPA but is slightly less extreme in its language. It would still allow the US Department of Justice to shut down websites accused of copyright infringement, but requires court orders in order to do so. And, like SOPA, it would allow rightsholders to demand that online payment processing companies and ad networks disconnect accused websites from their services, although would again require a court order.
The Senate could be voting on PIPA in early December, but one Senator is threatening to disrupt proceedings using what's called a filibuster. Says PCWorld:
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, has talked about a filibuster, with the bill likely to come before the full Senate in the next few weeks. During a filibuster, a senator continues to speak on the Senate floor, preventing the Senate from moving forward on a piece of legislation. [...]
Wyden, working with liberal activist group Demand Progress, has asked opponents of Protect IP to sign their names at StopCensorship.org, with the plan to read the names of opponents during a filibuster. In the first 24 hours after Wyden's request, more than 50,000 people had signed their names, according to Demand Progress.
In a video on StopCensorship.org, Wyden says:
"The at-all-cost approaches that these bills take to protecting intellectual property sacrifices cybersecurity while restricting free speech and innovation."
In the rush to defend the internet from SOPA, it's important that PIPA does not sneak in through the back door. Ninety law professors have signed a letter opposing PIPA, arguing that it is unconstitutional, and over 100 technology entrepreneurs signed a letter expressing concern that PIPA would "undermine innovation and creativity" online.
The bills don't appear to have the support of the American public, either. Says O'Reilly's Alex Howar, in another epic post on SOPA/PIPA:
Most American citizens oppose government involvement in blocking access to content online, particularly when the word "censor" is accurately applied. When asked if ISPs, social media sites and search engines should block access - as they would under SOPA - only a third of Americans agree.
If either of these bills pass, their effects would be felt worldwide but for now there's not much that non-Americans can do but wait and watch.
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