Opponents of controversial federal anti-piracy legislation known as SOPA seem to be picking up steam.
Late Friday afternoon, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), said he planned tone down enforcement powers that would be granted by the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). A new version would not include the most controversial provision, which would have enabled federal authorities to "blacklist" domains that were alleged to be involved in distribution of pirated content, effectively cutting portions of the Web off from all U.S. users.
"After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision," Smith, one of SOPA's chief backers, said in a statement. "We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers."
The move comes after a similar step taken on Thursday by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), sponsor of the Senate companion bill to SOPA, called The Protect IP Act, or PIPA. Leahy said complaints from "human rights groups, engineers, and others" had convinced him to change his thinking on the bill.
"I remain confident that the ISPs — including the cable industry, which is the largest association of ISPs — would not support the legislation if its enactment created the problems that opponents of this provision suggest. Nonetheless, this is in fact a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it," he said in a statement on his website.
"As I prepare a managers’ amendment to be considered during the floor debate, I will therefore propose that the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied before implemented, so that we can focus on the other important provisions in this bill, which are essential to protecting American intellectual property online, and the American jobs that are tied to intellectual property. I regret that law enforcement will not have this remedy available to it when websites operating overseas are stealing American property, threatening the safety and security of American consumers."
While Senate debate on PIPA is slated for later this month, advocacy group Public Knowledge said on Friday that it believed debate on SOPA was going to be postponed until February.
Either way, removal of DNS blacklisting provision is unlikely to satisfy critics of Congressional anti-piracy efforts. They find other provisions — such as the ability for the Justice Department to cut off payment processing for alleged "rogue" websites — to be nearly as problematic.
"The DNS filtering provisions represent only some of the fundamental flaws in PIPA," the Electronic Froniter Foundation said in a statement to Geek.com. "This bill, and its House counterpart, cannot be fixed — they must be killed."
Meanwhile, discussions about SOPA hung over the annual CES geek-fest, held this week in Las Vegas. At the trade show, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) talked up his legislative alternative to SOPA, the OPEN Act, or Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act. He also promised to hold hearings next week on the issue. (For more, see this story.)