White House Responds to Online Piracy Petitions

As the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and complementary bills make their way through Congress, the Obama administration responded today to two online petitions regarding the measures. The petitions, each of which had been signed by more than 51,000 people as of press time, were filed through the White House's "We the People" online initiative.

The administration would not openly condemn or affirm the legislation, but cautioned in a blog post that it would not support any bill that did not "guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small."

The White House said piracy was a "real problem" that affects small content providers and the largest movie studios, but had to be approached without undermining freedom of expression or entrepreneurship. The statement also calls on private entities such as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to take voluntary action in protecting online rights while reducing piracy.

SOPA is designed to combat "rogue sites," or foreign websites run out of countries that may have more lax copyright enforcement than the United States. The bill would allow the federal government to bring these sites to court. But as lawsuits against a foreign website could prove long and fruitless, the bill would also force search engines to cease displaying links to the sites if mandated by a court order. Meanwhile rights-holders could request the court to deny credit card companies from servicing the offending site.

A controversial measure would have also required ISPs to redirect consumer traffic from the sites. On Friday SOPA's sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, announced he would remove that provision amid concerns from security experts who say it could undermine an ongoing government effort to secure the Internet's infrastructure.

The White House seemed to echo that sentiment.

"Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online," the White House statement said.

Proponents of the bill, chief among them the Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, say the law is necessary to prevent hundreds of thousands of entertainment industry jobs being lost to online piracy. But critics say it amounts to excessive online censorship and is fundamentally against the open nature of the Internet.

This week several Internet companies announced they would join a collective web "blackout," or site shut-down on Jan. 18 to protest SOPA, with Wikipedia mulling joining the fray. A number of top tech executives have openly criticized SOPA, including Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Google's Sergey Brin, and Elon Musk, founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors.