The Obama administration has waded into the controversy over SOPA, the anti-piracy bill whose supporters include major entertainment industry groups like the MPAA and RIAA, and whose opponents warn it could lead to censorship and seriously threaten the existing structure of the internet.
The Obama administration, in the form of a White House blog post Saturday, isn't just casting doubt on SOPA. They're explicitly speaking the language of the bill's opponents.
Just like the voices of warning about the potential overreach of the bill — voices including leaders of prominent Internet innovators like Google, and the innovator of them all, Al Gore — the White House officials say that any attempt to curtail online piracy of movies, music and other content must not be permitted to extend into outright censorship of law-abiding users of the internet.
"Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," wrote Victoria Espinel, Aneesh Chopra, and Howard Schmidt, or "Obama's geeks," as Slashgear put it. Just in case anyone missed the tone of that sentence, it was rendered in bold in the post, a response to the petitions that have flooded in urging Obama to oppose SOPA. Also in bold was this sentence: "We must avoid creating new cybersecurity risks or disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet."
It will be lost on no one closely following the issue that that key phrase — underlying architecture of the internet — closely tracks the warnings of some of the people urging that the bill be quashed or changed.
The Obama move also comes just hours after a crack appeared in the facade: Rep. Lamar Smith, the bill's chief sponsor, said Friday afternoon that he'd be willing to remove the controversial language letting government block domain names after all.
The president is getting in a whack at a bill that looks like it's going down, and the ultimate meaning of that were the emotions nestled just a few lines away from each other on the link-sharing website Reddit. "We got President Obama's Attention!!" one joyous poster exclaimed, while others warned that diligence will be required — the entertainment industry, a bastion of political influence and fundraising prowess, won't take a loss on SOPA without a fight.
There was also the fool-me-once feeling that was bugging E.D. Kain, a contributor at Forbes.com on tech and "nerd culture."
I admit that while I’m pretty glad to see the administration come out with this sort of in-depth statement on the matter, I have a hard time trusting the president on these issues. His veto pen notably did not come out to quash the NDAA - a bill he vowed at one point to not let past his desk.
Then again, internet regulations may have wide, bipartisan support but still nowhere near the support that a defense funding bill has. Obama may have seen a political fight he couldn’t win, read the writing on the wall, and backed off of the NDAA rather than suffer a blow right before an election. The same does not apply to SOPA/PIPA.
Still to come: Reddit's still planning a blackout on Jan. 18 to protest SOPA. And the Obama administration wants a conference call with leaders of the anti-SOPA movement to discuss their concerns — and to press for a solution that does something to rein in piracy. It was a big stand-taking for a risk averse administration. There's also a long way to go.
MORE SOPA: The Motion Picture Association of America sees in Obama's statement the reality it wishes to see, a posture befitting Hollywood. Here's the opening salvo of the MPAA's statement in response to the White House, which maintains its demands that anti-piracy legislation move forward, despite the views of some anti-SOPA activists that the entire issue is an unnecessary distraction.
We welcome the Administration's clear statement that legislation is needed to stop foreign based thieves from stealing the hard work and creativity of millions of American workers. For too long in this debate, those that seek to preserve and profit from the status quo have moved to obstruct reasonable legislation. While many of the elements mentioned in the White House statement are critically important, we believe, as do others in our coalition, that protecting American jobs is important too, particularly in these difficult economic times for our nation. We are pleased that Chairman Leahy and Chairman Smith reiterated yesterday that they too support action. So now it is time to stop the obstruction and move forward on legislation.