The Congressional Grill: House Co-Sponsor Defends SOPA (TCTV)

The Internet is up in arms about the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and for good reason. It could potentially block and censor sites for alleged copyright infringement without full due process. Companies that support the bill are facing boycotts (GoDaddy just withdrew its support for this reason).

But people on the two sides of the debate still don’t see eye to eye, which is why we invited one of the SOPA’s co-sponsors, Congressman Bill Owens (D-NY), to address the issues. We captured the conversation in the video above.

Owens defends SOPA (what did you expect?). But he is also open to amendments to prevent some of the abuses opponents fear. The thrust of the bill is aimed at shutting off access to pirated content on overseas sites. Owens compares the effort to stopping illegal physical goods from crossing the border. But the way SOPA proposes to block these sites could have all sorts of unintended consequences, such as it being applied to legitimate sites by overzealous prosecutors and judges.

SOPA cripples the safe harbor provisions under the current DMCA law by making third-party sites, search engines, and ISPs liable for copyright infringement by other sites they point to. Under the current DMCA rules, if a video, photo, or other piece of content is infringing, the content owner can request to take it down. Under SOPA, the entire site gets blocked, even if it contains millions of other legitimate videos and photos. SOPA raises so many red flags around the lack of due process, censorship, and simply messing with the basic way the Internet works by blocking traffic at DNS servers.

Owens and I get into all of these issues. He didn’t back down from supporting the main thrust of SOPA (which is directed at online piracy rampant in other countries like China), but he also admits the bill may not be perfect as currently written. At least that’s a start. Unfortunately, he is not on the Judiciary Committee marking up the bill. His response to the Internet industry which opposes the bill, however, is to suggest changes that would protect the Internet while still fighting piracy. If you have any ideas, add them in comments.

You can read more of our SOPA coverage and watch my previous interview with Union Square’s Brad Burnham on Why SOPA Must Be Stopped.