Friday, January 20, 2012

The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act may have been the two most hated bills in recent legislative history and now they’re dead. Or are they? Congressman Lamar Smith “postponed consideration” of SOPA after the Senate postponed the similar PIPA legalization. Does a postponement mean death? Is tabling a bill the same as sealing it in a mahogany box and burying it six feet underground?

“I think that it is dead,” said SUNY Geneseo Political Science Dept. Professor and Chair Jeffrey Koch, Ph.D. But then he added, “It’s dead for the rest of the year. Especially in an election year; anything that generates this level of controversy.”

To understand the legislative process, Koch explained, one needs to know that most bills fail. They’re assigned to committees and then they die a rather quiet death. In fact, most legislators who introduce bills already know this, though Koch thinks its unlikely the authors of SOPA and PIPA thought their bills would die right away.

So the bills are dead and unlikely to return in 2012. What makes Koch think they could rise from their murky graves in 2013 or beyond? “There are bills that do come back,” he said. In fact, “Many bills that do become laws were introduced in many pervious congresses.” He cites health care as an example. Previous congresses have been wrangling over health care legislation for almost a century. And as we all know, a health care bill did finally pass both chambers and President Obama signed them into law.

Similarly on the topic of these SOPA and PIPA bills, he said it’s unlikely that they’re dead for all time. The reality is that while most people enjoy the openness and ubiquity of the Internet, piracy is real, is costing people money and this means, Koch said, “I can’t imagine that it’s going to go away so easily.”
Still, legislating a global entity like the Internet is no simple task, as piracy can start far outside U.S. jurisdiction and, Koch told us, “U.S. law can only reach so far.”

Professor Koch offered no opinion on the contents of the bills. However when we asked him why they are so hard to read and why there isn’t some sort of simplified version for citizens, he had to agree.

“They’re written in a very technical legalese. That has been the case for quite a while. Most bills these days are that way. Particularly if they do deal with something that is a technical issue, and there are a lot more bills like this as society has become more technical and the issues become more technically complex.”

Let’s review what we’ve learned: SOPA and PIPA are Dead, but only in the way a zombie is dead. The gestation to the living dead will likely take 12 months. They or something like them will rise up again in 12 months. The new bills may even start dragging themselves around the halls of congress right after the November’s presidential election. Future versions will likely try to address the same difficult and persistent issues and they will be just as hard to read and understand as today’s now “dead” versions of SOPA and PIPA.