WASHINGTON — For Rep. Tom Cole, the math was pretty simple.
He had received hundreds of contacts in his office opposing legislation aimed at curbing online piracy but no letters backing the bill.
Supporters, he said, “are not making their case, whatever that case is.”
So Cole, like the other members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation, isn't ready to vote for legislation that has resulted in online protests and a steady stream of attacks from groups that say it threatens freedom of speech on the Internet.
The House bill has yet to clear a committee, and there's no timetable for a full House debate. In the Senate, a test vote on a similar bill that was scheduled for Tuesday was postponed, after some co-sponsors defected in the wake of the grass-roots opposition.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee said he couldn't support the bill as it is currently written.
“You've got to stop online piracy, but you've got to do it in a way that doesn't affect First Amendment rights,'' he said.
But Coburn said many of the claims about the legislation's impact have been overblown and noted that the target is foreign websites that traffic in content — including movies, music and books — that essentially has been stolen.
The theft represents billions of dollars in lost revenue for the owners of the intellectual property and thousands of lost jobs, Coburn said.
Still, Coburn has his concerns with the approach taken in the Senate bill. And he insists, as he does with all legislation, that its costs be offset with cuts elsewhere in the budget; the Senate bill, he said, carries an estimated $45 million in federal enforcement costs.
The NetCoalition, which includes such companies as Google, Yahoo! and Wikipedia that oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act — known as SOPA — in the House and the Protect IP Act in the Senate, contends the bills would violate constitutional protections of free speech and due process.
Internet service providers would be required to block suspected rogue websites based only on allegations, and entire websites could be shut down even if only a tiny fraction of the content is suspected of copyright infringement, the coalition says.
“SOPA's requirement of the blocking of access to websites by domain name blocking, search engine blocking or otherwise runs exactly counter to the most fundamental of open Internet principles,” the coalition says in an analysis of the House bill.
“The provisions of SOPA are specifically designed to force Internet service providers both to regulate and be regulated.”
Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the author of the House bill, agreed this month to remove the Domain Name System blocking provisions, but he continues to defend the bill, even as more lawmakers — and the White House — distance themselves from it.
“Contrary to critics' claims, SOPA does not censor the Internet,'' Smith said Wednesday. “It only targets activity that is already illegal, and only targets foreign websites that steal and sell America's technology, inventions and products. And it is similar to laws that already govern websites based in the U.S.”
Smith's bill is backed by associations that represent the movie and music industries, as well as larger groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Michael O'Leary, an executive with the Motion Picture Association of America, said last week that the film industry would not support legislation that would limit free speech. The anti-piracy bills, he said, “focus solely on illegal conduct, which is not free speech.”
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said he understands that companies want to see laws against Internet piracy enforced.
The solution isn't shutting off parts of the Internet, he said.
“You're suddenly like China, trying to limit the access of what goes in and what goes out of the country, and that will create a very difficult situation for us as a nation given that we're a nation built on freedom of speech and communication,'' Lankford said.
He said the House bill wouldn't advance.
“People get very touchy about the Internet,'' he said.
at a glance
What lawmakers said
WASHINGTON — Members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation commented last week on House and Senate bills to combat international Internet sites that traffic in copyrighted music, video and other content, or intellectual property.
The bills are known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa
“While I believe that the intellectual property rights of American companies deserve substantial protection under the law, S. 968, the PROTECT-IP Act, is not the answer to the problem of online counterfeiting and piracy.
“I share the concerns of America's technology companies, industry leaders and the many citizens who have voiced their concerns to my office. It is clear to me that this bill will inflict too heavy a burden on third-party non-infringing entities and could do serious harm to one of the last vestiges that is relatively free from government regulation, the Internet.”
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne
“I cannot support H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act of 2011 in its current form. While I am a strong advocate for protecting intellectual property, I believe this bill allows the government to overstep its authority, and I have my doubts that this legislation will effectively protect intellectual property rights without compromising American's First Amendment right to free speech.”
Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa
“I have heard from hundreds of my constituents over the past several days about their concerns with this legislation. As currently drafted, I have significant concerns that SOPA may limit free speech on the Internet. As we address legislation to protect intellectual property rights, Congress must be mindful that the bills intended to protect honest, American innovators are not doing more harm than good.”