SOPA Internet bill: Newspapers and op-ed writers pile on

Last week, tech companies such as Google and Yahoo spoke out against SOPA and PIPA, two bills aimed at cracking down on online copyright infringement in a way that some call overbearing. Now, with newspapers running more pieces critical of the legislation, the opposition could intensify.

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    Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt waits to speak prior to an address at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., Nov. 15, 2011. Mr. Schmidt criticized the SOPA copyright bill, saying it would lead to Internet censorship.
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It’s been a tough few days for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the twin bills currently winding their way through the House and the Senate, respectively, aimed at increasing the government’s ability to hamstring copyright infringers and other counterfeiting ne’er-do-wells. Although the bills enjoy bipartisan support in Washington, opposition from groups equating their enforcement with online censorship has been strong – and the backlash is growing.

On Monday, Wall Street Journal columnist L. Gordon Crovitz (formerly the paper’s publisher) wrote an op-ed decrying SOPA and PIPA, saying, “These bills would go so far to protect copyright that they would strangle the Internet with regulation. The Web would be transformed from a permissive technology where innovation is welcome to one where websites are shut down first, questions asked later.” Crovitz concluded that “Hollywood” (the Motion Picture Association of America and other groups who are the bills’ primary backers) wanted to suppress technology. He likening SOPA to arguments from the ‘80s that the VCR would suck the lifeblood out of the entertainment industry.

Crovitz’s position isn’t necessarily the Journal’s official line, of course, but it’s the latest in a string of denunciations of SOPA and PIPA in mainstream publications. On Sunday, The New York Times carried an editorial against the bills which flatly stated, “the definition of wrongdoing in the ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ introduced in the House is too broad … like its Senate companion, the 'Protect IP' bill, it has serious problems that must be fixed.”

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The LA Times, the hometown paper of the MPAA, wrote an even sterner piece against SOPA the day before that, opining that it “goes … down the wrong path, weakening protections for companies — including those based in the United States — that enable users to store, publish or sell goods online.”

Of course, the press for SOPA and PIPA hasn’t been all bad. Last week, more than 300 companies, including NBC/Universal, Pfizer, and the NBA, signed a letter in support of the bills. And on Monday, Forbes published an op-ed by “tech capitalism” writer Scott Cleland which was generally supportive of the bills' aims and methods. Cleland predicted that “with fixes to ensure the legislation only targets rogue websites and does not create unintended problems by requiring actual website blocking or traffic filtering, support for online anti-piracy legislation is likely to strongly consolidate as the bills progress.” On the other hand, it’s worth pointing out that Forbes published a different op-ed piece later that day with the title, “How Congress and the Entertainment Industry Plan to Kill the Internet and How Citizens, Reddit Users, and a Few Senators Are Fighting Back.” Perhaps we could say that coverage has been mixed. 

Pretty much everyone – including the aforementioned newspapers as well as tech titans such as Google and Yahoo – agrees that stopping online piracy is a noble motive. And everyone agrees that copyright infringement on the Internet is a huge problem for content creators (the Times reported in its editorial, for example, that more than 40 billion music files were illegally shared in 2008). But in spite of the bills’ popularity in Congress, all these groups have argued that infringement should be policed using less sweeping methods. SOPA and PIPA still have bipartisan support, but as they get closer to a vote – which could come before Congress breaks for the holidays – the bills’ opposition continues to gather steam.

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