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SOPA Markup Starts Slow

After weeks of hardball lobbying, the likes of which has not been seen since the height of the network neutrality debate, the House Judiciary Committee Thursday (Dec. 15) began a marathon markup of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) with an unusual marathon reading of the bill.

The SOPA legislation has the backing of both the Republican Chair of the committee, Lamar Smith of Texas, and the Democratic ranking member, John Conyers (D-Mich.), as well as TV and movie studios and a host of publishers and content owners. Smith introduced a new version of the bill this week that he said addressed many of those concerns, but bill critics were not assuaged.

Smith warned his audience and fellow committee members in his opening remarks to bring "a lunch and a flashlight" because he expected the hearing to stretch late into the night and Friday as well.

That appeared to be the case since bill critic Rep. Zoe Lofgren objected to waiving the reading of the bill, which means that the clerk was reading the whole bill, which Smith said would take up to an hour. Bill readings are almost always waived. She said the public should hear what was in the bill. Smith agreed that some of the critics of the new version must not have read it -- given their continued strong opposition.

Lofgren also recommended that the hearing be postponed, saying Smith's updated bill had only been introduced Monday. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), also a critic of the bill, agreed the hearing should be postponed, pointing out that there were more than 60 amendments in the wings and the public should get a chance to vet those as well.

Smith did not appear ready to relent and called for the reading to continue, which it was at press time.

The bill has split Northern California (Silicon Valley) and Southern (Hollywood) and their respective duly elected representatives over the issue of how much power to give the Justice Department and industry to go after foreign rogue web sites pirating and counterfeiting content.

Google, consumer electronics companies and others say the bill gives them too much power, with language that could bring domestic sites into the equation, and could result in non-infringing sites being unfairly targeted on mere suspicion. Bill backers argue that it is a balanced approach to a big problem -- content theft -- and that the government and industry need newer and better tools to take down infringing sites.