Intellectual Property

Controversial Copyright Legislation Could Return

If at first bad laws don't succeed, try again

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It was one year ago today that an unprecedented outcry against the Stop Online Piracy Act proved to Washington officialdom that sufficiently irritated Internet users are a potent political force. After Wikipedia, Google, Craigslist and other major sites asked their users to contact their representatives, the deluge of traffic knocked some Senate Web sites offline, and votes on both bills were indefinitely postponed.

The massive public outcry that, by some counts, involved more than 10 million Internet users concerned about the proposals' impact on free expression has turned the protests into a cautionary tale on Capitol Hill. Aides now worry about tech-related legislation becoming "SOPA-fied," and neither bill has been reintroduced in 2013. Anti-SOPA groups like Public Knowledge are even talking about counterattacking with a bill that would expand fair use or curb what they say are copyright abuses.

There are, on the other hand, some hints that SOPA—or its sibling, or cousin—could return. The White House has endorsed SOPA-esque legislation targeting offshore Web sites, Hollywood's top lobbyist said he was "confident" that more could be done, and the new chairman of the House Judiciary committee said he remains "committed to enacting strong copyright laws."