Strange bedfellows: ‘Stop Online Piracy Act’ opposition includes Issa, Pelosi and Paul

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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On Thursday afternoon the Democratic former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted her opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill targeting foreign websites that facilitate the sale of counterfeit U.S. intellectual property. The California congresswoman’s voice is the latest in a growing chorus of opposition to SOPA, following Wednesday’s House hearing about the legislation.

In response to a tweet from a follower about her stance on “Internet censorship and #SOPA,” Pelosi tweeted, “Need to find a better solution than #SOPA #DontBreakTheInternet.”

SOPA would enable content and intellectual property owners to obtain court orders requiring Internet service providers, search engine companies and others to block access to “rogue websites” that profit from the illegal sale of intellectual property owned by Americans and U.S. companies.

Through a court order, content owners could also require payment processing companies to stop providing services to rogue sites, while extending full immunity to the service providers.

Intellectual property issues are not easily divisible on a partisan basis, and this most recent round of anti-piracy legislation has attracted support from the strangest of bedfellows.

Supporters of SOPA see the legislation as a crucial tool for law enforcement to protect American consumers against potential harm and death from the sale of counterfeit drugs and electronics. Those in objection worry that the bill will set a censorship precedent on the Internet.

GOP presidential candidate and Teas Rep. Ron Paul joined nine Democrats in signing a “dear colleague” letter Tuesday in opposition to SOPA.

House Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said during a press conference Tuesday, “We believe that the thoughtful way to attack piracy … is going to have to be considerably different from the current bill.” Issa appeared with anti-SOPA groups Fight for the Future and Demand Progress.

Fight for the Future produced an online anti-SOPA campaign called “American Censorship Day.” It provided web banners to spread awareness about the reasons why they objected to the legislation.

Coverage of SOPA has focused primarily on digital intellectual property theft and the tensions between Hollywood and Silicon Valley. But it also concerns the online sale of counterfeit hard goods like prescription drugs and American-made electronics.

“Consumers are lured to sophisticated and well-designed websites, complete with corporate advertising, credit card acceptance, and similar indicia of legitimacy,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says on its pro-SOPA website.

Rogue sites, the Chamber adds, “are devoted to offering or linking to unauthorized downloads or streaming of copyrighted material—including the latest movie and music hits—or to trafficking in counterfeit products, from pharmaceuticals to luxury goods.”

In the Senate on Thursday, a bipartisan piece of legislation was introduced to institute steeper penalties for the sale of counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, a co-sponsors of the bill, said, “Counterfeit medicines are some of the most profitable commodities for criminal organizations.”

“These drugs present a serious threat to the health and safety of people around the world,” said Grassley. “It’s important we address this threat by imposing harsher penalties on criminals who counterfeit these medicines.”

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