On Wednesday morning, the House Judiciary Committee met to discuss bill H.R. 3261, better known as Rep. Lamar Smith’s Stop Online Piracy Act.
Introduced late last month, SOPA has garnered praise and criticism from all corners of the Internet. The Motion Picture Association of America and other trade organizations have urged Congress to approve the proposal, while cyber rights activists and companies voiced their concern for the act’s other implications.
Just one SOPA opponent was invited to speak at the Congressional hearing. Katherine Oyama, Copyright Counsel for Google, warned that the bill is tantamount to censorship.
“We support SOPA’s stated goal of providing additional enforcement tools to combat foreign rogue websites that are dedicated to copyright infringement and counterfeiting,” said Oyama. “Unfortunately, we cannot support the bill as written, as it would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that could require monitoring of web sites and social media.”
Oyama hypothetically described (.pdf) a successful new business which would be condemned under SOPA for unknowingly dealing with a single bad client.
“This is the kind of company that is the model of an innovative American startup, and can hardly be called a foreign rogue site,” she explained. “Yet, under SOPA, your entire site could be deemed to be ‘dedicated to theft’ because, unbeknownst to you, a ‘portion’ of your site is being ‘primarily operated for’ unlawful activity by one of your sellers.”
SOPA would also conflict with the previously established traditions of the DMCA, she told the committee: “The DMCA’s safe harbor provisions are a critical part of the legal foundation that has made the U.S. Internet industry the most successful in the world. [SOPA] creates uncertainty about whether court orders issued against ‘foreign infringing sites’ and ‘sites dedicated to theft’ might disqualify an online service provider from the DMCA safe harbors.”
SOPA architect Rep. Smith harshly refuted Google’s stance, calling their opposition “no surprise.” The Congressman pointed to the U.S.’s lawsuit against the company for posting ads to illegal Canadian drug importers.
“Given Google’s record, their objection to authorizing a court to order a search engine to not steer consumers to foreign rogue sites is more easily understood,” said Smith. “Unfortunately, the theft of America’s intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs.”
Google settled the case in August to the tune of $500 million.
Although the search engine giant was the sole dissenting voice at the hearing, it wasn’t alone. Like-minded, anti-SOPA groups including the EFF, Creative Commons and Mozilla launched AmericanCensorship.org and declared November 16th “American Censorship Day.”
“Today, Congress holds hearings on the first American Internet censorship system,” said the group. “This bill can pass. If it does the Internet and free speech will never be the same. Join all of us to stop this bill.”
The site urged visitors to write Congress in opposition, spread the word and place a fake “website blocked by SOPA” message on their personal blogs.