With 31 co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle, the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is likely unstoppable in the Judiciary Committee, despite a well-orchestrated and highly visible campaign to kill it by SOPA opponents both in and out of the hearing room.
But the inevitable will have to wait for another day. With votes looming on the House floor, Judiciary Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the lead sponsor of SOPA, was forced to adjourn the markup in its second day. The committee has scheduled to pick up the market next Wednesday.
Committee members, especially opponents, were no doubt breathing a sigh a relief after soldiering through a 12-hour day on Thursday and an hour Friday morning, until Smith adjourned about 1:30 p.m. following a two-hour recess.
The markup was, if anything, great theater until its abrupt adjournment.
Hoping to defy the odds and delay the markup, SOPA opponents Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., joined by other members such as Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah., used every tactic and argument at their disposal, including offering some 60 amendments. They are part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers pushing the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, an alternative bill to SOPA in the House and Protect IP in the Senate.
All three bills are aimed at shutting down foreign websites that infringe on copyright holders and sell counterfeit goods, but OPEN takes a different approach than SOPA and Protect IP. To combat rogue sites, OPEN would set up the International Trade Commission to go after foreign sites by cutting off advertising and payment to those venues. SOPA would use the U.S. legal system to force domain name servers and Internet service providers to block websites and links to infringing material, an approach the Internet community believes goes way too far.
"Watch us try to stop SOPA," Issa tweeted minutes before the markup began on Thursday. He also blacked out his Facebook page in protest of the bill that he and others contend would derail the architecture of the Internet and threaten free speech.
As the committee debated amendment after amendment, SOPA opponents complained that SOPA, especially a 71-page manager's amendment that was offered Monday night, was rushed to markup without the expertise of technical Internet experts. "We're going to do surgery on the Internet, and we haven't brought in a doctor. This is moving way too fast. Let's bring in the nerds and get this right," said Chaffetz.
Lamar and other SOPA sponsors were set on moving ahead. "We've been working on the bill a long time," said Mel Watt, D-N.C. "This didn't start when the manager's amendment was dropped. I don't think we're going to be able to resolve this with a bunch of experts."
At the beginning of markup Day 2, Issa knew he couldn't win the markup fight. "It's very clear we're going to lose here today, and lose in the worst possible way, without all the facts," Issa said.
But now at least, he and SOPA opponents have got a little more breathing room.