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Groups Testify At SOPA Hearing, Internet Campaign Swamps Congress

Posted by: , 17:06 AEDT, Fri November 18, 2011

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While politicians hear from the MPAA and other pro-copyright groups on their thoughts about the controversial SOPA copyright bill, Internet users stage a day of protest resulting in over a million protest emails being sent to Congress

While the likes of the MPAA and Google testified in front of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the Internet responded to a day of action by inundating Congressional phone lines, emails and mail boxes urging Washington politicians to re-consider the MPAA/RIAA sponsored bill.

But the atmosphere in the sometimes heated testimony was much more one sided, with only six witnesses called to testify, five of them were pro-SOPA advocates and lobbying agencies, with Google the lone voice of opposition but still gave qualified support on key parts of the bill. Due to this, critics have already attacked what they perceive as a very small witness pool, which did not include any consumer or public interest groups, on such an important issue with could effectively allow government and corporate interests to censor the Internet.

Testifying for SOPA, the MPAA's Michael O'Leary dismissed concerns that SOPA would endanger First Amendment rights, and instead said that SOPA would actually protect those rights by protecting the work of artists. 

But Google's representative there, Policy Counsel Katherine Oyama, reading from a prepared statement, urged Congress to reconsider the section of the bill which forces ISPs and search engines to "disappear" websites, citing that this would endanger Google's and the United States' fight for free speech worldwide. Google referred to cases where foreign governments, in their bid to censor the Internet, have asked Google to do exactly what Congress proposes.

"The prospect of ISPs and search engines 'disappearing' entire sites when they have violated no U.S. law, but only 'facilitated' unlawful acts of third parties) raises serious concerns," Oyama told the committee.

But Google supported the approach of cutting off funding to websites suspected of providing infringing content. But this an approach that critics have also attacked as being subject to abuse, as the rights holder could issue infringement notices to financial providers without any actual evidence of infringement, speculation is enough.

And even Maria Pallente, director of the US Copyright Office, was skeptical at the "starvation of funding" approach, as in her testimony, she felt that this would not stop non-profit websites.

There are also questions as to how SOPA can be implemented in the real-world. Even the chief sponsor of the bill expressed his unfamiliarity with the technical side of his own bill. "I’m not a technical expert on this," the chairman of the committee Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said, before adding: "I’m trying to ferret this out."

Perhaps Smith's wavering stance could be related to the day of action, dubbed the American Censorship Day, by Internet and tech companies opposed to SOPA. Over 6,000 websites, including Digital Digest, participated by blacking our their website logos and linking to The website called on U.S. Internet users to make their voice heard by emailing, calling or writing to their representatives. 

And the results from the day of action was tremendous. Over 1 million emails were sent to Congress, 3,000 handwritten letters, and over 87,000 calls were made to members of Congress protesting SOPA, using a system set up by Tumblr. And online petitions, including one set up at the White House's own website, has also had incredible support, with the White House now forced to respond to calls to stop SOPA, also dubbed the E-Parasites bill.

But with widespread bi-partisan support, the bill is expected to pass, although with many amendments. But support is not universal, with Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi expressing via Twitter that a better solution was needed, an opinion also supported by Republican representative Darrell Issa on Twitter.


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