Oklahoma Republicans Retain SOPA, PIPA Concerns

Image of U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn

It’s not often that members of Oklahoma’s ultra-conservative Congressional delegation, including U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and I agree on an issue, but the growing opposition to the SOPA and PIPA bills has created an interesting coalition of disparate proportions.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), pending in the U.S. Senate, are terrible bills that obviously threaten free speech in this country. Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation is waking up to that point, and we should support them on this extremely important issue.

The stated aim of the bills, which are supported by the movie industry, is to crackdown on Internet sites that inappropriately use or make available copyrighted material that illegally makes its way to other countries. The problem is the bills, in their current form, give the federal government sweeping powers to shut down web sites without due process. This is a direct violation of First-Amendment rights.

Most of those people opposed to the two measures also support a crackdown on the piracy and resale of copyrighted material, which means a tremendous loss of revenue to companies and even artists. But the bills are extreme measures that need rethinking and rewriting.

This is what Coburn, a Republican, had to say about PIPA as quoted in a NewsOK.com story:

You've got to stop online piracy, but you've got to do it in a way that doesn't affect First Amendment rights.

This is what Inhofe, also a Republican, had to say in a press release on the issue:

While I believe that the intellectual property rights of American companies deserve substantial protection under the law, S. 968, the PROTECT-IP Act, is not the answer to the problem of online counterfeiting and piracy. I share the concerns of America’s technology companies, industry leaders, and the many citizens who have voiced their concerns to my office. It is clear to me that this bill will inflict too heavy a burden on third-party non-infringing entities and could do serious harm to one of the last vestiges that is relatively free from government regulation, the Internet. When addressing intellectual property rights, Congress must be careful to also protect the freedom of speech and flow of information that the Internet provides. Additionally, I have concerns with creating yet another private right of action, which will be used by plaintiffs to stifle Internet innovation, and with requirements in the bill that could negatively impact the Internet’s reliability and performance.

U.S. Reps. Tom Cole, Frank Lucas and John Sullivan, all Republicans, have also expressed their concerns about the bills.

A blackout protest last week among web sites—Okie Funk included—forced many Washington politicians to rethink their support for the bill and some observers say the measures are probably dead or dormant for now. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has delayed the vote on PIPA, for example.

Here in Oklahoma, right now, Congressional Republicans are leading the opposition to the bills, making the same arguments of leading, national liberal groups, such as MoveOn.org, and the issue threatens to impact the national elections. As of now, Republicans seem to be gaining political traction from opposing the bills, but President Barack Obama has also expressed concerns over some components of the bills, which some argue could actually hurt his support in Hollywood.

In any event, Democrats need to express more vocal opposition to the bills, centering their concerns on protecting freedom of speech. If they fail to do so, it could damage the party’s election viability this year. If the Internet turns against Obama and other leading Democrats, it could—and I know this might seem overstated—help elect Republicans who oppose the measures. I do think this issue has that much potential on the national level.

As many people have written, this is a battle between New Media and Old Media, which really have much in common, but the bottom line is this: We’re not ever going to go back to an Internet-less world, with all its high-tech progress, futuristic potential and, yes, attendant problems and issues, such as piracy, spam and cyber security.

Old Media risks overplaying its hand and ending up without any new protections at all if it won’t compromise.