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SOPA Comes Under Fire Against Web Companies, Public Interest Groups

Capitol Hill was buzzing Tuesday with public interest groups and Web companies opposed to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is getting a markup in the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday.

Public interest groups including Public Knowledge were seeking a seat at the witness table, saying it lacked their perspective. They also held a press conference with sympathetic legislators to outline their concerns. Meanwhile, a group of Web powerhouses including Google, Facebook, eBay and Yahoo! sent a letter to the heads of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees taking issue with both SOPA, and its Senate predecessor, the PROTECT IP Act.

SOPA was introduced as a companion to PROTECT IP, but goes beyond that bill, which is targeted at offshore Web sites, to include domestic sites alleged to be infringing.

Both bills are intended to give the government and industry more power to pursue online content pirates. Bill opponents say they agree with that goal, just not with how Congress is currently proposing to go about it. "Unfortunately, the bills as drafted would expose law-abiding U.S. Internet and technology companies to new uncertain liabilities, private rights of action, and technology mandates that would require monitoring of web sites," the computer companies wrote.

The companies said they were particularly concerned that the bills would undercut a safe harbor in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) that protects companies that make good faith efforts to remove infringing content from their sites.

"We cannot support these bills as written and ask that you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign 'rogue' websites dedicated to copyright infringement and trademark counterfeiting, while preserving the innovation and dynamism that has made the Internet such an important driver of economic growth and job creation," they wrote.

The bills are strongly supported by a host of content providers, including major studios and networks, as well as unions including Unions AFTRA, SAG and IATSE, who argue that government and industry need better tools to combat content piracy, which threatens billions of dollars of intellectual property and millions of jobs.