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How to Shake Off the Ghost of SOPA

July 11, 2012

The latest controversy with the Intellectual Property Attaché
Act, formerly a provision within the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), is entirely
self-inflicted by its lead sponsors. 

You do not have to be a political strategist to figure out
that trying to pass a piece of SOPA might in fact inflame the wide array of
opposition to SOPA.  You also can not cry
foul when you secretly develop the legislation, hold no legislative hearing on
its merits, and attempt (and thankfully fail) to move the legislation through
the Committee almost 24 hours after it was leaked to the press.  Each of these steps flies in the face of the request
made by opponents to SOPA for
more openness, inclusion, and transparency
for intellectual property policy
decisions.  It is as if the some believe that
the business of copyright legislating can proceed as usual and that the
Internet Black Out never occurred. 

If the House Judiciary Committee wants to shake off the
ghost of SOPA and avoid having legislation blow up in their collective faces,
they need to rethink how they move intellectual property bills.  The Committee must proactively work at justifying
to the public why a bill is necessary and win their support for its passage
before voting it out.  It should stop
trying to move bills first and put the burden on the public to stop them from
blindly moving forward.  It is long
overdue that they take the public seriously and stop
telling themselves
the myth that Google and Wikipedia orchestrated a
misinformation campaign to kill SOPA. 

So to begin the exorcism of SOPA, Public Knowledge would
suggest that the House Judiciary Committee first lay out publicly what exactly
is the problem that it needs to address by diverting more taxpayer resources
towards enforcement despite the vast
array of federal agencies already doing the job
.  The best way to start that process would be
to officially introduce the legislation and schedule a legislative hearing on
the bill.  Sponsors of the legislation
should articulate to the public why the bill is necessary and what harms will
befall the public if the legislation failed to move at all.  It would also be nice to avoid what they did
with SOPA by stacking
the panel with supporters
and stifling the opportunity for dissent.  This is not a radical proposal given that normally
this is how a bill becomes law in Congress (though it is new for legislating on
copyright).

Uploading
a PDF
of a staff draft is not only insufficient, it is disingenuous given
that it can be changed any minute before a vote (unlike an officially
introduced piece of legislation).  Pretending
this has nothing to do with SOPA when you basically copy pages
70 to 78
from SOPA and paste it into a new bill insults the intelligence of the public.  They have spoken loudly
against all of SOPA and trying to pass a piece of SOPA does not suddenly become
acceptable as an alternative.  Anything
that will impact intellectual property and the Internet must require more time
and thought than renaming
a post office
and the sooner that is acknowledged and acted on, the sooner the Committee
can shake off the ghost SOPA.