Over the past few days, there have been three significant developments that indicate the tide is turning on SOPA (and the Senate version, PIPA). As I have written previously, SOPA poses a threat to open education and educational technology in general, while most educational publishers are actively supporting this legislation. At the end of 2011, SOPA appeared to be likely to pass, with strong bipartisan support for the legislation. Since that time, there is a growing backlash, particular from technology companies as well as online communities such as Reddit. This backlash is having a real effect, and as of this weekend, SOPA may not even make it out of the House Judiciary committee.
1. DNS – Blocking - The first piece of news came out Friday that the DNS-blocking portions of the bill were being stripped. These provisions were viewed by experts to increase security threats to internet addressing, and after initially bypassing experts, congressional sponsors seem to be listening.
“After consultation with industry groups across the country,” SOPA author Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) said in a statement released by his office, “I feel we should remove DNS-blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the [U.S. House Judiciary] Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision.”
2. House Leadership – The second piece of news came out early Saturday that the House Republican leadership has agreed to not allow SOPA to move to a floor debate until there is a real consensus. According to Rep. Darrell Issa, one of the leading opponents of SOPA:
“While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act, I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House. Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote,” said Chairman Issa. “The voice of the Internet community has been heard. Much more education for Members of Congress about the workings of the Internet is essential if anti-piracy legislation is to be workable and achieve broad appeal.”
3. White House Position – The third piece of news also came out Saturday in that President Obama has now taken a position on SOPA and PIPA, and he clearly opposes the legislation as written. In addition to opposing the DNS-blocking portions, the White House also took a position against the censorship aspects. In their response to online petitions, the White House stated:
Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small. Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected. To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity. Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.
This is good news for almost all of the education community, with the possible exception of the publishers who are backing SOPA*. While neither SOPA nor PIPA is dead, the news is much more encouraging today than it was even a week ago. Plus, there is some entertainment value in seeing President Obama and Rep. Issa agreeing with each other.
Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!
– Dr. Peter Venkman
* Tim O’Reilly and his publishing company are a notable exception to the other educational publishers, as he has come out strongly against SOPA and PIPA.