Free speech advocates were up in arms last year when House Judiciary Committee chief Lamar Smith introduced a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act, which, they worried, would result in unbridled censorship of the Internet. By January, the online masses had mobilized. Some 7,000 websites coordinated a blackout to raise awareness of its supposed dangers. With mounting pressure against the bill, SOPA was eventually postponed.
But now its back, or so advocates of a free and open Web fear.
TechDirt, followed by TechCrunch, and then BoingBoing raised the alarm this week when Rep. Smith and other members unveiled a new bill called the Intellectual Property Attache Act. This is "Zombie SOPA" come back to haunt us, they cried, with the "corporatist arch-villain" Rep. Smith at the helm.
The bill, however, appears to be nothing like SOPA.
An intellectual property rights source tells Whispers that comparing SOPA to this bill is "apples and oranges." The coverage of the new bill, the source says, has been sensationalist of a "non-controversial measure."
There may be some credence to that sentiment.
The old SOPA meant to dramatically expand the U.S. law enforcement's ability to domestically police the Internet. The new bill simply creates a diplomatic position that would work to stop the most blatant global pirates.
Even the Center for Democracy and Technology, which fiercely opposed SOPA, testified in March 2011 that international engagement was needed to stop the threat of the most offensive intellectual property violators abroad.
From their March testimony:
"Addressing foreign infringement activity requires international cooperation. Where website operators and other participants in online infringement are based outside the United States, unilateral domestic law enforcement tactics will be limited in their effectiveness. Cross-border problems require cross-border solutions. Cooperating with foreign law enforcement may carry its own challenges. But only cooperative approaches have the potential to stop infringement at its source – to hold wrongdoers personally accountable and to shut down their operations for good."
Even if the new bill's critics acknowledge it isn't the old SOPA, they are likely to be unhappy Rep. Smith introduced it without consulting the Internet first.
David Sohn, general counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, told Whispers he understood the concern that like SOPA, this new bill was being pushed through “without sufficient transparency and process.”
“The bill popped up without being on anyone’s radar screen and immediately was slated for markup,” he said. “Yes, that raises suspicion.”
But a House Judiciary Committee aide told Whispers that groups who opposed SOPA have been brought into the conversation.
"We are making some changes [to the bill] based on feedback from outside groups and members," the aide said. “We plan to circulate a new draft based off those changes to ensure that the development of this bill continues to be an open and transparent process.”
Will "Zombie SOPA" raise the same furor as the old SOPA? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Update, 7/11, This post was updated with comment from the Center for Democracy and Technology and the House Judiciary Committee.