Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What local legislators think about Internet censorship

Posted By on Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Congress, like any enterprise composed of many, many old people, has often been accused of misunderstanding issues involving the Internet. But with Internet piracy and copyright infringement having massive impact on sales of movies, music, and computer games, companies like Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America have been pushing for Congress to do something about it — something beyond the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

That’s the reason why websites like Wikipedia have gone dark in protest today — and Google’s logo appears to have been redacted.

The U.S. Senate has produced a bill called the Protect IP Act (PIPA) while the House has created the Stop Online Piracy Act. The SIPA allows the justice department to actually punish the advertisers and prevent financial transactions of “rogue” copyright-infringing websites overseas. The Stop Online Piracy Act could allow the federal government to block domain names (but not I.P. addresses ) or require search engines to censor their results, punishing websites that just feature copyright-infringing material. That means foreign versions of sites like YouTube and Facebook.

Internet pirates already have found easy ways to circumvent the limitations — with apps already on the market to allow them to do this. Meanwhile, Internet websites are lobbying hard against it. They’re worried that it would not just curtail freedom on the Internet and stymy innovation for user-generated start-ups — some caution that it would mess with the technical engineering of the Internet itself.

Both bills have bipartisan support — the Senate bill is sponsored by Patrick Leahy (D-Virginia) and the House bill is sponsored by Lamar Smith (R-TX) — and bipartisan opposition. The GOP’s budget wonk, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc), and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal) both have publicly opposed the House version. And with Congress still debating them, and amendments still being proposed, the language of the bill may change. Recently, Leahy and Smith both said they would delay DNS blocking until the impact was further studied.

Since local legislators haven’t been at the forefront of supporting these bills, I called up the offices of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, and senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

Todd Winer, spokesman for McMorris Rodgers, writes in an email that the congresswoman supports the goals of SOPA and hears from constituents on both sides but is waiting for the House Judiciary Committee to tweak the bill to deal with some of her concerns.

“In other words, it’s an issue she’s closely following, but right now, things are in flux — and far from final — so until there’s a final bill about to be voted on in committee, it wouldn’t make sense for her to say ‘Yes, I’m definitely voting for this,’ or ‘No, I’m definitely voting against it,’” Winer writes. “We’re in a holding pattern.”

Meanwhile, Cantwell has allied with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), one of the bills biggest critics. They’ve introduced the OPEN Act, an alternative that protects copyright, they say, without endangering the Internet. The OPEN Act would use trade agreements to encourage other countries to protect American intellectual property.

“The Internet allows entrepreneurs in America and around the world to create ground-breaking companies and fuel economic growth,” Cantwell said in a press release. “That’s why we’re leading a bipartisan effort to pass the OPEN Act. The OPEN Act addresses the same challenges as the PROTECT Act, while protecting freedom of speech, innovation and security on the Internet. This new bill will crack down on online counterfeiting and copyright violations in a way that is consistent with existing law for illegal imports that violate intellectual property rights.”

Which leaves Sen. Patty Murray, who hasn’t said much about the Protect IP act at all. In fact, according to her office, she was pressured heavily to co-sponsor the bill but declined. She’s still undecided and is waiting until she sees the final version.

Murray, according to, was one of the top recipients of money from groups supporting the bill, though, of course, her office says she isn’t the type to be swayed by donations.

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About The Author

Daniel Walters

A lifelong Spokane native, Daniel Walters is the Inlander's senior investigative reporter. But he also reports on a wide swath of other topics, including business, education, real estate development, land use, and other stories throughout North Idaho and Spokane County.He's reported on deep flaws in the Washington...