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SOPA Mark-up Delayed as Support Continues to Crumble

December 16, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

(See update below…)

After day one of the House Judiciary Committee’s mark-up of the Stop Online Piracy Act (a.k.a. SOPA), it’s pretty clear that the bill is going to be passed by the committee and forwarded to the full House. So far every single amendment to improve the bill for its critics has been rejected, with a solid, bipartisan majority voting en bloc to keep the bill as is. But day one of the mark-up has also made it clear that the public is waking up and legislators are taking notice.

When a virtually identical bill went to mark-up in the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, it was approved by a unanimous vote after a congenial, laughter-filled, 7-minute meeting. Six months later in the House as the Judiciary Committee slogs through a 15+ hour meeting, the tone could not be more different.

One of the common themes at the marathon, often acrimonious mark-up session has been that the bill is being rushed through without sufficient input from interests in opposition. Rep. Darrell Issa [R, CA-49], Rep. Daniel Lungren [R, CA-3] and others repeatedly called out the bill’s sponsors for rushing, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren [D, CA-16] went so far in her attempt to slow things down as refusing to agree to a customary waiver of the reading of the bill, requiring committee staff to spend more than an hour literally reading the legislative text aloud. At one point the hearing was derailed over a tweet published by bill supporter Rep. Steve King [R, IA-5] that said that Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee [D, TX-18], an opponent of the bill, had him so bored that he was killing time surfing the internet. Jackson-Lee then called out King for his “offensive” tweet, and the meeting was delayed as Jackon-Lee and Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith [R, TX-21] argued over whether the word “offensive” should be entered in the congressional record.

The explosion of opposition to the bill between the Senate mark-up and the House mark-up has largely been lead primarily by the American Censorship Day coalition, which we (PPF) are happy to be a part of. Since the coalition page launched one month ago, 709,000 people have shared it on Facebook and 68,000 links to it on Twitter have been shared. During yesterday’s mark-up, #SOPA was trending on Twitter in New York and Los Angeles. More than 1 millions of calls and emails to Congress have been generated over the past month. The level of engagement on this bill is virtually unprecedented for a measure that still has not emerged from the committee process. And it has happened despite a virtual blackout from mainstream media, which is mostly owned by corporations that support the bill.

The fight to kill SOPA, which has been waged through exactly the kinds of online social networks that would be most at risk of being blacklisted under the bill, is itself a perfect example of why SOPA must be killed. Whereas traditional, corporate-owned media tends to be biased towards the preservation of social divisions that benefit those in power, online peer-to-peer networks have the ability to facilitate the kind of grassroots, cross-partisan coalitions that can make a difference on matters of fundamental rights like the freedom of speech online. Take reddit, for example, where an active and smart community has popped up around fighting SOPA. According to reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, it wouldn’t exist if SOPA had been law when he and his colleagues thought to build the site. “The story of reddit […] simply could not have happened in a world with this bill,” said Ohanian in a video posted toYouTube. “And it’s not just reddit, it’s every single other social media site out there that will be threatened by this bill.”

The opponents of SOPA are up against giants of power in American society, from media mogul Rupert Murdoch to powerful-senator-tuned-Hollywood-lobbyist Chris Dodd. The corporations in support of SOPA have spent more than 13 times more money on lobbying Congress than those opposed. The entertainment industry has been deeply entrenched in Washington for decades. The tech industry, on the other hand, is composed of young companies that are just beginning to build up their lobbying game. And, remember, most members of Congress are too old to have grown up with the internet, so besides all of the influence peddling that is going on they are predisposed to sympathize with the business models of older companies that they know and understand.

SOPA is expected to pass the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon on a bipartisan vote of 22 or so “ayes” and 12 or so “nays.” When Congress comes back from recess in late January, SOPA and its Senate counterpart, PIPA, are expected to be top items on the floor calendars. Support for these bills is fading quickly. Do you part right now and write your senators and representative and tell them to oppose SOPA and PIPA.

UPDATE: Huge victory for SOPA opponents — as of 1:45 p.m. ET, the mark-up has been delayed until after the holiday recess. Details at TPM.

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