Internet Rejoices: SOPA Is at Death's Door

By Rebecca J. Rosen

The hated anti-piracy bill may end up in the dustbin, but other threats to a free and open Internet remain live in Congress.

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SOPA is not dead, yet, but it's dying. On Friday, Lamar Smith of Texas agreed to remove the controversial DNS-blocking provision from the House bill, of which he is the author. Later that day, the White House released its own statement criticizing the legislation. Though the White House stopped short of saying it would veto the bill, it attacked the two bills for much of the same things that have shocked open-Internet advocates at places such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Wikipedia, BoingBoing, and Reddit. And on Saturday, Darrell Issa, one of the leading opponents of the bill and the chair of the committee where it's been in mark-up, announced that Wednesday's hearings were canceled and that he had been assured by House majority leader Eric Cantor that SOPA would be shelved for the time being. As Brad Plumer writes in The Washington Post, "The momentum on online piracy legislation is shifting dramatically."

The shift is cause for celebration, but it's not exactly an all-clear either. The Senate bill -- called the PROTECT IP Act -- is still live, though it too is foundering. On Thursday, its coauthor, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, conceded that the legislation needed "more study." PIPA is scheduled for a floor vote next Tuesday.

But even if the SOPA/PIPA threat does pass -- which seems likely -- the urge to reign in the Internet's free wheel remains. As Cory Doctorow said in a talk posted on BoingBoing,

It may seem like SOPA is the endgame in a long fight over copyright and the Internet, and it may seem that if we defeat SOPA, we'll be well on our way to securing the freedom of PCs and networks. But as I said at the beginning of this talk, this isn't about copyright.

The copyright wars are just the beta version of a long coming war on computation.

And perhaps the best example of that drive to clamp down on the free exchange online is another bill lurking in the house: the Research Works Act, a bill opponents are calling #SOPAv2, which has flown mostly under the radar while SOPA nabbed headlines. Cosponsored by Darrell Issa -- the same Darrell Issa who opposes SOPA -- the act would make open access to taxpayer-funded research a prerogative not of the authors but of publishers. (Could it possibly be because of the major financial support Representative Issa has received from the pharmaceutical industry?) As Mike Taylor wrote in The Guardian yesterday, "This is the moment academic publishers gave up all pretence of being on the side of scientists. Their rhetoric has traditionally been of partnering with scientists, but the truth is that for some time now scientific publishers have been anti-science and anti-publication. The Research Works Act, introduced in the US Congress on 16 December, amounts to a declaration of war by the publishers."

The Research Works Act won't inspire the kind of ire SOPA has. Wikipedia will not go dark in protest; more than 25,000 people will not add a "Stop RWA" banner to their Twitter avatars, as they have done for SOPA. But it would be a shame if, lost amid the celebrations of SOPA's death, the RWA stealthily slipped through.


Image: cudmore/Flickr

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/01/internet-rejoices-sopa-is-at-deaths-door/251517/