One of the most conservative members of Congress signaled on Monday what may be the beginning of the end for the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA): Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House Budget Committee and one of the GOP's frontmen against so-called "job killing regulations," has officially come out against it.
Taking issue with its potential for abuse, Ryan said that SOPA could actually be a new kind of onerous regulation -- the one thing Republicans hate most.
"The Internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history," Ryan explained in a prepared statement. "It should stay that way. While H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse. I do not support H.R. 3261 in its current form and will oppose the legislation should it come before the full House."
Ryan's statement comes days after a group of activists with the social media forum Reddit.com launched a campaign called "Pull Ryan," in reaction to rumors that he was in favor of SOPA. Ryan later disavowed those rumors and insisted he hadn't made up his mind.
Ryan is not the only prominent conservative to come out against SOPA. Although the bill was sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) and supported by many of his fellow Republicans, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is also opposed.
"As a former tech entrepreneur and patent holder, I know that innovation depends on strong intellectual property rights and robust enforcement tools,” Issa explained to Raw Story in December. “SOPA, however, goes far beyond what is necessary to protect the rights of intellectual property owners from foreign rogue sites. It would put tremendous new regulatory and monitoring burdens on legitimate commerce in the digital space, leave the internet less secure and ultimately handicaps the policies that have allowed digital job creators to flourish."
He also changed the profile photo on his personal Facebook page to a black box with the word "CENSORED" in the middle, in protest of the bill. Issa has a history working with technology products for automobiles. He is also part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate who've proposed an alternative to SOPA, called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act.
Instead of using the courts to force search engines and ISPs to block websites accused of copyright infringement, as SOPA and Protect IP would, the alternative suggests simply cutting them off from all sources of funding, just like the banks did to WikiLeaks.
The lawmakers would accomplish this by regulating illegal downloads as a matter of international commerce. Doing so, the group of lawmakers hope to see the International Trade Commission (ITC) take charge of combating piracy, instead of judges. The ITC would be tasked with reviewing claims of online infringement against foreign website owners, and ordering them cut off from funding sources if the claims prove true.
It would also set up a rapid-response mechanism for temporary disconnections from funding if an imminent harm can be demonstrated by a copyright holder, such as broadcasters who air live events that are being illegally streamed online.
The House has delayed further hearings on SOPA until later in January, when it's expected to come up for a vote before the House at-large.
A spokesman for Rep. Ryan did not return a request for comment.
Photo: Flickr user Medill DC.