By Robert Romano — Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Lamar Smith has put the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on hold, stripping out controversial DNS blocking provisions from the legislation until further study can take place in a move that Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson called a “victory for First Amendment and civil liberties advocates.”
“SOPA as originally drafted threatened to institutionalize into U.S. law a regime of blocking websites from being accessed,” Wilson said, calling the provision “pure censorship.”
The move by Smith to remove one of the central features of the bill, DNS blocking, was quite an admission. Smith previously dismissed critics of the bill: “The criticism of this bill is completely hypothetical; none of it is based in reality. Not one of the critics was able to point to any language in the bill that would in any way harm the Internet. Their accusations are simply not supported by any facts.”
So much for that. Now Smith claims that “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.”
One of the things his committee should look into immediately is that domestic websites are already being blocked by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under existing federal forfeiture laws in the name of protecting copyright.
In some cases, these websites are being seized prior to any trial or even a hearing taking place, proof Wilson said the government was already overstepping its bounds by blocking access to websites in America in an attempt to protect intellectual property.
“There are examples of DHS erroneously blocking access to websites that were not even violating copyright laws,” Wilson explained, pointing to the recent example of www.dajaz1.com .
That website was a popular music blog that was seized by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for over a year, only to be returned in Dec. 2011 without any criminal charges being filed. ICE admitted there was never any probable cause for the seizure in the first place.
“Nobody supports online piracy, but the government’s actions without restraint are precisely the reason civil libertarians are so concerned about SOPA,” Wilson said, calling on Congress to look into how existing laws are already being abused.
Smith even has an additional incentive to look into the case of www.dajaz1.com and the abuse existing forfeiture laws, as his own campaign website was caught using a copyrighted photograph without permission or attribution, as reported by Vice.com.
Said D.J. Shulte, the photographer, “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.”
Although it was probably just an innocent rather than malicious case of infringement, just like millions of others all over the Internet, under Smith’s original interpretation of the law, one supposes he believes (or believed) his own campaign website should have been blocked without a hearing or trial, without even so much as a “cease and desist” notice from the copyright holder.
Perhaps that explains why within one day of the scandal breaking, Smith took down his campaign website “for maintenance.” The “robots.txt” file was even apparently modified to make looking at archived versions of the website impossible.
And perhaps it also explains why within two days, he was announcing the most significant amendments to date offered to the very legislation he said needed no change.
Ironic how once his own website was caught up in the very web he is attempting to weave, Smith saw the light about the need to fix the legislation. Now, if he’ll just drop the whole thing — and investigate existing abuses of copyright law — everyone will be safer.
Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.