A Status Update on SOPA from Washington

A colleague just asked me for a crash course on the Stop Online Privacy Act. I sent them my feature:

The thing is, that post is about 6,000 words long and is now a month out of date. So here's the briefing I sent back. First, the major players in the House:

FOR SOPA IN THE U.S. HOUSE: Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of House Judiciary Committee. His staffers had a major hand in drafting it. He supports it. So do Reps. Goodlatte and Berman. Rep. Mel Watts is the congressman whose remarks about not understanding helped to fuel headlines about people in the House making laws about something (the Internet) they don't understand (which is something that makes people who use and do understand it VERY frustrated.)

FOR SOPA IN INDUSTRY: RIAA, MPAA, big Hollywood, labor. Ergo, a bipartisan coalition of 39 co-sponsors in the House. Oh, and all of these companies:

AGAINST SOPA: Reps. Darrell Issa, Zoe Lofgren, Jason Chaffetz and Jared Polis, the Internet industry. These four representatives (2 from CA, 1 from Colorado, 1 from Utah) introduced dozens of amendments to SOPA that would have addressed the most damaging, controversial, vague or problematic aspects of the bill, post-manager's amendment. (There's a lot of those.) By raising them, they created two day's worth of debate during the markup, effectively filibustering SOPA's progress during the waning days of the legislative calendar. They essentially ran out the clock, to apply a football metaphor, on the year at a time when the rest of the House was focused on other issues. See: payroll tax cut extension.

Rep. Michelle Bachmann is the only GOP candidate I've heard talk about it, which is notable. I think there should have been a debate question about it and the Internet -- but those aren't up to me.

Key counterproposal: An "*OPEN*" bill from Issa and other opponents of SOPA. Learn more at http://keepthewebopen.com … there's a lot that's interesting about that site, including both bill posts with commenting. It hosted an embedded livestream of the markup hearings.

Prospects: mixed. On the one hand, it's looking likely that it will pass out of committee. Proposed amendments voted down 2-1 in HJC when the manager's amendment was marked up. Unless something changes, I expect SOPA to emerge largely unamended, particularly with respect to that relates search engines and use of DNS for enforcement, the most controversial aspects of the bill for the tech community.

On the other hand, there have been significant cybersecurity concerns raised about the bills because of what it would do to DNSSEC, including by DHS officials. The committee might take a classified briefing so that the government's own geeks from Sandia Labs and DHS and other "Three Letter Agencies" could explain to the legislators) who somehow neglected to bring in any technical experts before the committee to testify) why SOPA won't work and why it's a terrible idea to try to DNS for enforcement. If that happens before markup, it could change the bill that heads to the House floor -- and House leadership might want to address security concerns before bringing it to a full vote.

There's going to be a month when the senators will be hearing about how unpopular these bills are. It's unclear if public option will turn enough against them if the broadcast and cable TV networks (which are all FOR SOPA) don't cover it. Fox News just did a spot, so that may be changing. I'd love to be a fly on the wall between network executives and producers at CNN, 60 Minutes and MSBNC right now.

That said, it's not 1982. The Internet will drive awareness of these bills in 2012 in a way that simply wasn't possible before this moment in history. The reaction from tech companies and their leaders is in of itself news and it's much harder to miss the discussion around SOPA online now. Google, Facebook and Wikipedia still haven't changed their homepages to protest SOPA. While +Sergey Brin +Eric Mill and +Jimmy Wales have expressed concerns about the bill, as written, +Mark Zuckerberg has not written a "status update" like Brin yet about it. Those are 3 of the top 10 sites in the world and places that nearly 100% of online citizens hit daily. If Zuck or more Internet executives came out that publicly against SOPA, it would affect the debate in D.C.

People to follow to stay up to date on #SOPA: The single most prolific blogger has been Mike Masnick at +Techdirt , who has shifted much of his output to the issue over the past month. Masnick is ardently against the bill. I think +Declan McCullagh at +CNET and +Gautham Nagesh at the Hill have produced some of the the best sourced coverage around right now and understand both the politics and the technology (a regrettably rare combination). If you want to keep up to date and can afford to pay to get the news earlier, Politico's tech policy team is all over it at @politicopro(paid) and @morningtech. http://politico.com/morningtech.

If you like your analysis free and in real-time, follow
+Julian Sanchez (now at Cato), who has been following SOPA closely, +Nate Anderson at +Ars Technica and Cory @Doctorow at @BoingBoing. The @EFF and Center for Democracy and Technology have all been watching the progress and provisions of the bills on a daily basis, including livetweeting the hearings (@EFFLive).

Date of next markup: Unclear. Likely when the House comes back in session in 2012:
Expect @DarrellIssa to share it on Twitter. He's been breaking a lot of the news on SOPA there.

Other key date: January 24th. That's when the Protect IP Act (PIPA) is set to go before the Senate. Senator Reid has said he's going to bring it up on the first day the Senate is back in session. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), who put a block on it, says he filibuster it. Key ratio, as with any bill there, is for/against in Senate. It will be interesting to see how other senators line up. That 60+ for or 40+ split is what to ask political analysts about -- I don't know that count yet
That's what I've got from Washington for now. When I know more, I'll share it onwards.
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