CES 2012 At least one powerful Republican member of the US House of Representatives takes a dim view of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) wending it way through the House.
"The bottom line is you've got to throw it away," said Darrell Issa (R-CA), an 11-year veteran of the House Judiciary Committee, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and sponsor of the competing Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN Act), when speaking on a congressional panel at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Wednesday.
Issa strongly disagreed with pro-SOPA remarks made earlier in the session by Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) regarding the bill's constitutionality. "With all due respect to Marsha, she's just flat wrong on the constitutionality of SOPA," he said.
From Issa's point of view, SOPA is "inherently unconstitutional."
US Representative Darrell Issa prefers his OPEN Act to the 'unconstitutional' SOPA
If the bill – in its present form, at least – becomes law, it would requires ISPs and search engines to remove access to and links to websites that content providers accuse of hosting copyright-protected content.
To Issa, that's unconstitutional. "America has not said, 'We will punish you if you do not actively participate in enforcing, against others, something you're not involved in before'."
He gave as an example someone looking out their window and seeing a crime being committed. "You are not expected to go down there and beat up the guy who's trying to commit a crime," he said. "It's just not part of how we work the constitution."
Neither is Issa sanguine about SOPA's provenance. "SOPA was ill-conceived," he said "written in Hollywood, and included all kinds of things that physically can't be done, including the DNS blocking."
Referring to SOPA architect Lamar Smith (R-TX), Issa spoke in coded Congressional niceties. "Lamar is a dear friend of mine, and I've served with him for those 11 years, but he and [co-sponsor] John Conyers (D-MI) should be ashamed of themselves for the way they've prepared this bill," he said.
Smith and Conyers held only one hearing on the bill in preparation for markup, Issa said, "in which they ordered Google – whether they wanted to be there or not – to show up to be humiliated."
SOPA allows content providers who claim copyright infringement to take their complaints to federal district courts. But, Issa says, at least in its current form as available online – Lamar and Conyers haven't yet shared their work on amendments – "It doesn't even require that you prove you're the copyright holder in order to bring these allegations."
Such loosey-goosey legal shenanigans could clog up the courts, Issa suggests. "As Republicans," he said, "we tend to be for tort reform. This thing opens up to any third-party plaintiff's trial lawyer the ability to get involved and start suing."
SOPA supporters claim that their bill, as Blackburn explained in her remarks, is "targeted to foreign rogue websites." Issa acknowledged the existence of overseas pirates distributing others' copyrighted content, and that copyright law needs to be tweaked in the digital age, but he said that protections need to be more carefully designed than was SOPA.
He also wasn't buying the "foreign rogue websites" argument. "It doesn't strengthen copyright to tear down innovation on the internet in the name of opening up a whole bunch of new laws that are not directed at any way, shape, or form external to the US," he said. "They're directed internal to the US, and that's what's disingenuous about SOPA."
In addition, Issa argued that SOPA's use of the federal courts is far less efficient than adjudicating copyright complains at the US International Trade Commission (USITC), which has both intellectual-property expertise and "the fastest rocket docket there is."
A USITC injunction, Issa says, has the power to order MasterCard, VISA, or other money movers to stop transmitting money to rogue websites in foreign lands – Issa specifically mentioned Russia and China.
He argued that the USITC is a better venue for halting foreign piracy. "I gotta tell you, it's faster and cheaper," he said. ®
When asked if he thought that his colleagues in the House knew enough about how the internet works to start regulating it, Issa's answer was concise. "No," he said.