The divisive Stop Online Piracy Act bill has undergone a major revision that could diminish suspicions that the legislation would pave the way for online censorship.
Texas Representative Lamar Smith, who is driving SOPA through Congress, has announced the DNS-blocking stipulation of the bill is to be scrapped.
The reform means that alleged piracy websites will no longer be blocked from general internet search and address functions. Prior to the amendment, one routine criticism of SOPA is how it could empower rights holders to block any website that it deems unhelpful in the fight on piracy.
Meanwhile, the Senate equivalent to the SOPA bill – called the Protect IP Act (PIPA) – will also remove website blocking powers.
Darrell Issa, chair of the House Oversight Committee, said he was “confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House”.
“Majority Leader [Eric] Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote."
In further progress for opponents to SOPA and PIPA, The White House has raised concerns over particulars in the bills.
“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,” Washington said in a statement.
“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."
Censorship versus kleptomania
The SOPA bill wants to give rights holders the power to block funds to various websites if they are suspected to be providing access to illicit downloads and streams of copyright material.
But the ambiguity regarding what constitutes an offending website, coupled with the unparalleled authority that private companies would have in shutting them down, has led to many opponents of the bill.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt said the bill would allow lawful censorship of the open internet.
“The solutions are draconian. There’s a bill that would require ISPs to remove URLs from the Web, which is also known as censorship last time I checked,” he recently said during an appearance at MIT.
Along with Google, companies in opposition of SOPA include Twitter, the Wikimedia Foundation, Facebook, AOL, LinkedIn and eBay.
Games companies such as Nintendo and EA had initially supported SOPA, though no longer appear on the bill’s supporters list.
Trade group The ESA continues to support the bill, though many of its members have spoken out on the matter.