After stalling two measures in Congress that would have made it easier for law enforcement to go after alleged copyright scofflaws, digital rights activists might now be turning their attention to a lesser-noticed bill aimed at requiring Internet companies to store identifying information about their customers.
Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, met withering resistance last month to his proposed Stop Online Piracy Act. Internet heavyweights such as Wikipedia and Google blacked out their sites or used their iconic logos to protest the bill and its companion in the Senate, the PROTECT IP Act.
The deluge of protests led Smith to put his bill on hold, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he would do the same with the PROTECT IP Act on the other side of the hall.
Backers of the two bills – which would arm the Justice Department with more power to demand the removal of links to sites where suspected copyrighted content is located – argue that the laws are necessary for protecting intellectual property and stopping the tide of counterfeit consumer products.
But opponents viewed it as Washington policymakers doing the bidding of entertainment conglomerates in Hollywood and their lobbyists. Online protesters argued that the bills threatened free speech by raising the possibility that large volumes of content on the web could be blacklisted or removed if it happened to come into contact with material alleged to be pirated.
If passed a decade ago, YouTube might not even exist today, argues the Electronic Frontier Foundation.