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White House adds voice to SOPA opposition

The controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), currently making its way through the US House of Representatives, has received another massive blow — this time from above. In an official statement made on behalf of the Obama administration, three senior officials including Aneesh Chopra, the administration’s Chief Technology Officer, have made it clear that any legislation coming across the president’s desk “must not threaten an open and innovative internet”.

Stuart Thomas: Senior Reporter
Stuart Thomas joined the Burn Media team in 2011 while finishing off an MA in South African Literature. Eager to prove his geek credentials, he allowed himself... More

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The trio stressed, however, that this stance would not mean the end of any legislation aimed at putting an end to pirated material.

“While we believe that online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response,” the trio said the Obama administration would “not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet”.

The statement was made in response to two petitions about legislative approaches to combat online piracy. Both petitions appear as part of the “We the People” programme on the White House website. Both petitions received tens of thousands of signatures.

The statement assures the public that “any effective legislation should reflect a wide range of stakeholders, including everyone from content creators to the engineers that build and maintain the infrastructure of the internet”.

It added that in order to minimise the risk of new legislation adversely affecting online content creators and engineers:

New legislation must be narrowly targeted only at sites beyond the reach of current U.S. law, cover activity clearly prohibited under existing U.S. laws, and be effectively tailored, with strong due process and focused on criminal activity. Any provision covering Internet intermediaries such as online advertising networks, payment processors, or search engines must be transparent and designed to prevent overly broad private rights of action that could encourage unjustified litigation that could discourage startup businesses and innovative firms from growing.

Support for the controversial act, which would block access to any website found guilty of illegally hosting any copyrighted content online, would adversely affect social giants such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. It would also mean that, any mashups, tributes, and covers on YouTube would have to be taken down in order for the video-sharing site to remain open to the public.

Support for the act has been waning, even among companies that once embraced it openly.

The world’s largest web domain name registrar Go Daddy, for instance, withdrew its support for the proposed legislation after a number of its customers transferred their domains in protest.

The statement went on to add that it expected any efforts to decrease online piracy should involve public participation at all levels:

“We expect and encourage all private parties, including both content creators and internet platform providers working together, to adopt voluntary measures and best practices to reduce online piracy”.