On Friday, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he plans to remove the Domain Name System (DNS) blocking provision from the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which is a copyright enforcement bill that's has stirred up some rather heated controversy from all corners of the internet.
Prior to its removal, the provision would have required ISPs to block their subscribers from accessing foreign websites accused of infringing the copyrights of U.S. companies. But with this provision now removed, Smith now has a better chance of actually getting SOPA pushed through Congress.
"After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove (DNS) blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the [U.S. House Judiciary] Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision," Smith said in a statement released by his office.
"We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign Web sites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers," he added.
Smith was forced to suspend the bill after facing strong opposition to SOPA during the bill's markup in the Judiciary Committee at the end of the year. So far the Judiciary Committee has yet to schedule a date for when it will continue the markup.
Chairman Lamar Smith is one of the biggest backers of SOPA. His move to yank DNS-blocking out of his pet bill arrives just after Sen. Patrick Leahy, the sponsor of the music and film industry's prized stallion Protect IP bill, decided on Friday to remove the DNS sections that mandate DNS blocking and redirecting.
Also on Friday, six Republican senators asked Majority Leader Harry Reid in a letter to actually postpone a vote on Protect IP. "Prior to committee action, some members expressed substantive concerns about the bill, and there was a commitment to resolve them prior to floor consideration," their letter stated.
Meanwhile, next week there will be a hearing to examine the impact of DNS and search engine blocking practices on the Internet, headed by one of the lead opponents to SOPA, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary. Public interest groups are also keeping a watchful eye on this new shift that's taking place in in Washington.
"It appears that lawmakers are beginning to realize how much damage their anti-piracy bills could cause to the Internet and to Internet-related businesses," said Sherwin Siy, the deputy legal director of Public Knowledge. "While we are pleased that some progress is being made, we are also firm in our opposition to both bills because some very bad provisions remain."
Earlier this week, social news site Reddit said that it plans to sign off from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST on January 18 to protest the controversial bill. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales also said that his firm may conduct a protest blackout, although it's unknown if he plans to join Reddit, or go dark on a different date.
"I'm all in favor of it, and I think it would be great if we could act quickly to coordinate with Reddit," Wales wrote. " I'd like to talk to our government affairs adviser to see if they agree on this as useful timing, but assuming that's a greenlight, I think that matching what Reddit does ... is a good idea."