Washington -- Capitol Hill was buzzing Tuesday with public
interest groups and Web companies opposed to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA),
which is getting a markup in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Public-interest groups, including Public Knowledge, were
seeking a seat at the witness table, saying the proceeding lacked their
perspective. The groups also held a press conference with sympathetic
legislators to outline their concerns.
Meanwhile, a group of Web powerhouses including Google,
Facebook, eBay and Yahoo sent a letter to the heads of the House and Senate
taking issue with both SOPA, and its Senate predecessor, the Protect IP Act.
SOPA was introduced as a companion to Protect IP, but goes
beyond that bill, which was aimed targeted at offshore Web sites, to include
domestic sites alleged to be infringing.
Both bills are intended to give the government and industry
more power to pursue online content pirates. Opponents of the measure have said
they agree with that goal, just not with how Congress is currently proposing to
go about it.
"Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose
law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain
liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would
require monitoring of web sites," the computer companies wrote.
The companies said they were particularly concerned that the
bills would undercut a safe harbor in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act
(DMCA) that protects companies that make good faith efforts to remove
infringing content from their sites.
"We cannot support these bills as written and ask that
you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign ‘rogue' websites dedicated to
copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting, while preserving the
innovation and dynamism that has made the Internet such an important driver of
economic growth and job creation," they wrote.
The bills are vigorously supported by a host of content providers,
including major studios and networks, as well as unions including the American
Federation of Radio and Television Artists, the Screen Actors Guild and International
Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, who argue that government and industry
need better tools to combat content piracy, which threatens billions of dollars
of intellectual property and millions of jobs.