How to Shake Off the Ghost of SOPA

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.

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