The SOPA-PIPA Alternative Bill Just Found an Opening in Its Path Forward

The Atlantic
The SOPA-PIPA Alternative Bill Just Found an Opening in Its Path Forward
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The SOPA-PIPA Alternative Bill Just Found an Opening in Its Path Forward

As the House and Senate's anti-piracy bills increasingly look like they're on their way to the trashcan, Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Ron Wyden must be taking tap dance breaks, as they push forward their alternative piece of legislation: OPEN. The position of the bipartisan, bicameral bill is interesting. Issa, a California Republican just introduced the bill to the House on Wednesday, and Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, introduced it to the Senate late last year. When Harry Reid announced that he would postpone the vote on PROTECT IP (PIPA), Issa seized the opportunity to plug his less shrill legislation. "Supporters of the Internet deserve credit for pressing advocates of PIPA and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) to back away from an effort to ram through controversial legislation," Issa said in a statement sent to The Atlantic Wire. "After inviting all stakeholders to help improve American intellectual property protections, I have introduced the bipartisan OPEN Act with Senator Rob Wyden which can be read and commented on at KeepTheWebOPEN.com."

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We called Issa's office immediately after seeing news of the PIPA delay on Twitter, and they sounded busy. Frederick Hill is the Communications Director for Issa, the committee chaired by Issa where the hotly anticipated gathering of the nerds will take place next week, and was away from his desk, when we called for comment. (It's the one that will feature Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who's been crowdsourcing his thoughts and positions in a comment thread on the popular and increasingly powerful link-sharing site.) In his stead, we spoke to Becca Watkins for an update on the next steps for OPEN -- the Online Protection and ENforcement of Digital Trade Act. As expected, she sounded busy, but more than willing to talk about the opening (pun unavoidable) the failure of SOPA and PIPA.

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"It's abnormal for a bill to be treated like SOPA was treated, to move so quickly," Watkins said, when we asked whether OPEN would be fast-tracked through the House and Senate. She pushed back against the idea but stopped short of a solid "No." Watkins added, "Even if it doesn't move for a while it's not an indication that it's a bad bill." And as the support of the tech industry and many of Issa's colleagues would suggest, it doesn't seem like lawmakers think it's a bad bill at all. Watkins pointed out to us that OPEN dropped in the House with 24 co-sponsors—double the number who put their names on SOPA, the bill championed by the Texas Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee Lamar Smith. When we asked what would happen next with OPEN, Watkins pumped the brakes. "It's standard operating procedure for [lawmakers] to sit for a while before bills are moved forward -- which is why SOPA was such a big deal."

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The issue of anti-piracy itself probably doesn't need any more momentum behind it. As yesterday's takedown of Megaupload.com and subsequent Anonymous mega-hack suggests, folks are staying on top of this debate, and the activism against overly harsh bills like SOPA and PIPA is heating up. Does that mean OPEN will hit the House floor by the end of the month? We doubt it, but that's sort of the point, says Issa. "It is clear that Congress needs to have more discussion and education about the workings of the Internet before it moves forward on sweeping legislation to address intellectual property theft on the Internet," the congressman said. "I look forward to working with my colleagues and stakeholders to achieve a needed consensus about the way forward."

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