Obama administration responds to SOPA blocking debate

February 2012


Victoria Espinel, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator at the Office of Management and Budget, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and Howard Schmidt, Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurity Coordinator for National Security Staff, have respondd to two petions against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act by blogging this as the official White House response to the “VETO the SOPA bill and any other future bills that threaten to diminish the free flow of information” petition (the bold text is in the White House post):

Right now, Congress is debating a few pieces of legislation concerning the very real issue of online piracy, including the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the PROTECT IP Act, and the Online Protection and Digital ENforcement Act (OPEN). We want to take this opportunity to tell you what the Administration will support—and what we will not support. Any effective legislation should reflect a wide range of stakeholders, including everyone from content creators to the engineers that build and maintain the infrastructure of the Internet.

While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response, we will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.

Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small. Across the globe, the openness of the Internet is increasingly central to innovation in business, government, and society and it must be protected. To minimize this risk, new legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity. Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.

We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet. Proposed laws must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet through manipulation of the Domain Name System (DNS), a foundation of Internet security. Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online. We must avoid legislation that drives users to dangerous, unreliable DNS servers and puts next-generation security policies, such as the deployment of DNSSEC, at risk. 

Let us be clear—online piracy is a real problem that harms the American economy, threatens jobs for significant numbers of middle class workers and hurts some of our nation’s most creative and innovative companies and entrepreneurs.  It harms everyone from struggling artists to production crews, and from startup social media companies to large movie studios. While we are strongly committed to the vigorous enforcement of intellectual property rights, existing tools are not strong enough to root out the worst online pirates beyond our borders. That is why the Administration calls on all sides to work together to pass sound legislation this year that provides prosecutors and rights holders new legal tools to combat online piracy originating beyond U.S. borders while staying true to the principles outlined above in this response.  We should never let criminals hide behind a hollow embrace of legitimate American values.

This is not just a matter for legislation. We expect and encourage all private parties, including both content creators and Internet platform providers working together, to adopt voluntary measures and best practices to reduce online piracy.

So, rather than just look at how legislation can be stopped, ask yourself: Where do we go from here? Don’t limit your opinion to what’s the wrong thing to do, ask yourself what’s right. Already, many members of Congress are asking for public input around the issue. We are paying close attention to those opportunities, as well as to public input to the Administration …

Moving forward, we will continue to work with Congress on a bipartisan basis on legislation that provides new tools needed in the global fight against piracy and counterfeiting, while vigorously defending an open Internet based on the values of free expression, privacy, security and innovation

The legislation, along with the PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act)  is now currently on after both demorat and Republican supporters backed away and have put the moves on ‘hold’ so Congress can find a consensus on the issues in contention. On the 18th January Wikipedia and a number of other websites partially ‘blacked out’ and self censored themselves in protest against the planned moves and its been interesting to see the ‘battle lines’ being drawn between the content owners (primarily Hollywood and the major record labels but also now independent record labels and others) and Silicon Valley – the new technology companies. But its not that simple and one of the most interesting responses came from a group of musicians including Trent Reznor, Amanda Palmer and OK Go who said in an open letter that as artists they recognised the need for measures to combat piracy, they are also concerned about maintaining a free internet, and believe SOPA and PIPA do not properly balance these two needs. The letter says: “We fear that the broad new enforcement powers provided under SOPA and PIPA could be easily abused against legitimate services like those upon which we depend. These bills would allow entire websites to be blocked without due process, causing collateral damage to the legitimate users of the same services – artists and creators like us who would be censored as a result. We are deeply concerned that PIPA and SOPA’s impact on piracy will be negligible compared to the potential damage that would be caused to legitimate internet services. Online piracy is harmful and it needs to be addressed, but not at the expense of censoring creativity, stifling innovation or preventing the creation of new, lawful digital distribution methods. We urge Congress to exercise extreme caution and ensure that the free and open internet, upon which so many artists rely to promote and distribute their work, does not become collateral damage in the process”.

Harry Reid in the US Senate has now said he was postponing any vote on PIPA, while the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith, likewise said he was halting SOPA discussions until there was wider agreement on a way forward among affected stakeholders.

From http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/01/14/obama-administration-responds-we-people-petitions-sopa-and-online-piracy and http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-01-19/sopa-spider-man-alcatel-lucent-cinven-intellectual-property.html  and http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203735304577167261853938938.html , the 1709 blog here http://www.the1709blog.blogspot.com/2012/01/murdoch-v-obama-google-v-murdoch.html and a very interesting comment from Jeremy Philips here  http://ipkitten.blogspot.com/2012/01/sleep-of-reason-word-on-democracy-and.html and from agent turned producer – and pro SOPA advocate – Gavin Polone here http://www.nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2012/01/why-pass-sopa-internet-myths-polone.html?imw=Y&f=most-viewed-24h5

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