Sham of SOPA hearings riles up key internet figures

16 Nov 2011

Leading figures in technology have hit out at what they regard as a sham set of hearings around the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act which many fear would give the US Department of Justice and media companies unwarranted and unprecedented new powers to shape the structure and content of the internet.

The Stop Online Piracy Act hearing, which takes place today, has alarmed many of the major technology companies in the US, such as Google, Facebook, Mozilla, AOL, Zynga and many others, who have all signed a letter to US senators on the matter.

Major Silicon Valley tech publisher Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media said on Google+ that he believes the SOPA is being set up by the recording industry and law enforcers without any real evidence from the internet industry. “This is really important. They aren’t even hearing testimony from opponents of the bill. The ‘hearings’ are a sham, with testimony from supporters only,” he said.

O’Reilly was sharing a blog post by distinguished Google engineer Matt Cutts, who was urging every US citizen he knew to get in touch with their local congressman on the issue. “Congress is holding hearings on a really bad bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) today. If you can call Congress today and ask them not to support SOPA or PROTECT IP, it would take just five minutes but would make a big difference,” Cutts said.

In his blog post Cutts warned: “If SOPA becomes law, it could stifle the innovation (and jobs) that the technology industry creates. That’s why Facebook, Twitter, Mozilla, Google, Yahoo, eBay, AOL, LinkedIn and Zynga all oppose SOPA.”



SOPA could damage internet innovation

Larry Downes, a senior adjunct fellow at online civil liberties group TechFreedom, said: “Last summer, House leaders assured Silicon Valley they would correct serious defects in Protect IP – defects that could cause long-term unintended damage to internet innovation. Instead, SOPA replaces unworkable technology mandates with vague standards and open-ended requirements. The House bill, in an effort to future-proof the legislation, has actually made it much worse.”

Downes warned that SOPA could potentially reshape the internet, and not for the best. “SOPA would give the Department of Justice and media companies unwarranted and unprecedented new powers to shape the structure and content of the internet. How far the new law actually goes will be left to prosecutors, lawyers and federal district judges.

“The bill makes three grave errors: First, SOPA fails to identify the specific problems for which existing laws are inadequate. Second, it favours broad remedies over narrowly-tailored solutions. Third, it commissions a proper cost-benefit analysis but only after the bill becomes law – too late to ensure that SOPA strikes the right balance.

“Just as many Congressmen were rightly sceptical of the FCC’s ‘net neutrality’ regulations, Members should be equally cautious with their own efforts to micromanage the internet ecosystem, one of the economy’s few bright spots,” Downes said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years