The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee decided this afternoon to delay voting on the controversial anti-piracy bill Stop Online Piracy Act until at least next week. As of now, the committee is scheduled to resume the markup on Wednesday.
The move to delay came the day after the committee began a heated -- and at times absurd -- markup procedure. At the day-long session on Thursday, more than one lawmaker insisted that Congress could pass the measure without first attempting to understand the architecture of the Internet and how the bill could change the way the Web works.
The Hollywood-backed bill provides for court orders banning ad networks and payment processors from doing business with “rogue” sites -- defined as sites dedicated to infringement. The measure also provides for court orders banning search engines from returning certain results and orders banning Internet service providers from putting traffic through to certain URLs. Even if ISPs did so, however, users could still reach the sites by typing in the numeric IP addresses.
Digital rights advocates, Internet engineers, law professors and others oppose the measure for a host of reasons: They say it could impinge on free speech because it could result in censorship of legitimate material as well as “rogue” sites. Also, the law could discourage companies from hosting user-generated content because it appears to impose new duties on Web companies to police their sites.
In addition, critics warn, tinkering with the domain name system could put the entire Web architecture at risk.
Despite these entirely legitimate concerns, lawmaker after lawmaker indicated yesterday that they wanted to forge ahead without additional information -- triggering widespread mocking by observers.
“If I had a dime for every time someone in the hearing markup used the phrase “I’m not a nerd” or “I’m no tech expert, but they tell me . . .,” I’d have a large number of dimes and still feel intensely worried about the future of the uncensored Internet,” Alexandra Petri wrote in the Washington Post. “If this were surgery, the patient would have run out screaming a long time ago.”
While putting off the proceedings until Wednesday doesn't give opponents a great deal of time, the move buys them at least a few more days to try to rally opposition.