The state of play for SOPA, PIPA

The tech industry and free speech advocates have been desperately trying to generate interest in their fight against misguided efforts to combat online privacy. As of this morning, their efforts appear to be paying off in a big way.

At issue are two related bills: the Senate’s Protect IP Act and the even more offensive Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, which enjoy Hollywood support, but which also threaten to stifle innovation, suppress free speech, and in some cases, even undermine national security.

To help drive home the degree to which the industry takes this seriously, a variety of tech giants are launching a coordinated protest today, including a 24-hour shutdown of Wikipedia. If SOPA’s opponents wanted Americans’ attention, they’ve got it — this is literally front-page news everywhere today.

The next question, of course, is whether SOPA is actually going anywhere. As we discussed over the weekend, sponsors of the House and Senate bills ran into fierce and unexpected opposition, largely derailing their legislative plans. The White House didn’t issue a veto threat, per se, but the administration’s chief technology officials concluded, “We will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” The statement added that any proposed legislation “must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet.” The White House’s position left SOPA and PIPA, at least in their current form, effectively dead.

The news for proponents of the bills wasn’t much better on the other end of Capitol Hill. House Republican leaders signaled that SOPA probably won’t even reach the floor for a vote and would have to undergo significant changes before it proceeds.

And yet, some are forging ahead anyway.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) vowed to push forward with his controversial anti-piracy bill on Tuesday as popular websites prepared to go dark in protest. […]

Smith dismissed Wikipedia’s blackout as a “publicity stunt” and said his committee would continue the markup of SOPA in February.

Markup or no markup, if House GOP leaders don’t intend to bring the bill to the floor, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) the bill isn’t moving, Smith is just spinning his wheels. For that matter, a committee push in February only gives opponents more time to rally against it, and over the last several weeks, SOPA critics are the ones with all the momentum.

The state of play in the Senate is a little different — a PIPA vote is likely next Tuesday — but even in the upper chamber, the bill is quickly losing friends. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announced his opposition yesterday, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a former co-sponsor of PIPA, is also now against it.

Politico characterized the bills as being “on life support,” with passage “in serious doubt.” There’s talk of trying to improve the legislation to satisfy critics’ concerns, but Politico added that both sides are “pessimistic that there will be a palatable compromise any time soon.”

Update: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who had also supported PIPA, announced his opposition to the bill this morning.