In a move certain to please (but not pacify) lovers of the free interwebz everywhere, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the 'father' of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) has agreed to remove passages that would have allowed the government to block foreign websites accused of copyright infringement, according to a statement released on his website.
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.
The provision in the law allowing DNS blocking has been at the center of the controversy surrounding the bill, with some experts warning that it could literally and figuratively break the internet. While the denizens of the web might be breathing a sigh of relief right now, groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are quick to point out that, from their point of view, at least, 'the fight continues.' In a statement they released today, the EFF said that:
It's heartening to see Congress take steps in the right direction, and it wouldn't have happened without the work and commitment of the many internet communities who have rallied to fight these dangerous bills. We should be proud of the progress we've made.
But let's be clear – we still have a long fight ahead and we face formidable foes... So let's keep the pressure on!
On a related note PIPA, the Protect-IP Act, a similar bill being looked at by the Senate, is also encountering growing opposition. Once again, provisions involving DNS blocking are the cause for controversy. Even the bill's biggest sponsor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), said yesterday that they should slow down and consider the effects the law could have on the internet.
One of the main reasons these bills are encountering so much opposition, not only from activists and, yes, pirates, but also from the general public, is the fact that they are written in near total ignorance to how the internet works, in every sense of the word. Without any familiar analogues, lawmakers have a hard time 'getting' the internet, either culturally or technically.
It's not the same as TV, it's not the same as the press, it's not the same as anything. You can't just rip a piece of it out and mess with its fundamental structure and expect everything to keep going smoothly. Until it gets approached by someone who actually knows what they are doing, any legislation involving the internet is just asking for trouble. Countering piracy might be a legitimate goal, but taking cues from Iran and North Korea ain't the way it's done.