SOPA/PIPA Update: Calling for Voting Cancellation, House Hypocrisy, and a Wikipedia Blackout

Last week has been intensely eventful for those keeping up with the ongoing and unfolding drama concerning the SOPA/PIPA proposals. On Friday, six senators wrote a collective letter to majority leader Harry Reid asking him to cancel the Senate's vote on the PIPA proposal. Charles Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Jeff Sessions, John Cornyn, Mike Lee, and Tom Coburn all signed the letter, saying that stakeholders in the act have vocalized their concern regarding unintended consequences that PIPA would cause should the proposal be passed. Although the cancelation of the vote would not eliminate the bill altogether, the proposal would be re-tabled for discussion and give senators another chance to iron out any portions of the bill that would be "less damaging" to the Internet. A day before, it was reported that Vermont senator Patrick Leahy agreed to delete a part of SOPA that mandates DNS blocking and redirecting. After losing support from the public as well as the White House, Congressional members are beginning to seriously reconsider the original draft that would give the government the ability to censor.

That same day, Republican representative Lamar Smith, also chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, agreed to take out a portion from the SOPA bill that would require ISPs to block foreign websites selling counterfeit goods. In his statement, Smith said, "After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove domain-name system blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision. We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers.”

Incidentally, this news of Smith's revision comes simultaneously alongside the accusation that the representative himself would violate his own bill should it be passed. Vice recently drew attention to Smith's own political website, on which he uses an image by photographer DJ Schulte but does not credit him. When Vice talked to Schulte, they found that he used a Creative Commons license on that image that allows others to use it given that they provide attribution. However, Schulte noted, "I do not see anywhere on the screen capture that you have provided that the image was attributed to the source (me). So my conclusion would be that Lamar Smith's organization did improperly use my image." In light of this infringement, media have been calling this bit of hypocrisy on part of the SOPA "ringleader" a jolting reality check on the bill's real influence on domains should the proposal pass.

As news of the SOPA/PIPA revision unfolds, several major online organizations are preparing for an Internet blackout day. Set for January 18, popular web sites including Reddit are planning to shut down in protest of the proposal. Although some bloggers have called for giants such as Google and Facebook to join the blackout, neither have indicated any plans to do so. The New York Times confirmed that Wikipedia would take part in the blackout with Jimmy Wales tweeting a good-humored warning,“Student warning! Do your homework early. Wikipedia protesting bad law on Wednesday!” Last week, Forbes mentioned that Wikipedia had expressed interest in joining Reddit in protest by possibly shutting down for the day. Said Wales:

I'm all in favor of it, and I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit. I'd like to talk to our government affairs advisor to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that's a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does (but in our own way of course) per the emerging consensus on how to do it, is a good idea.

For more information, see previous ONI coverage of SOPA/PIPA.