The most controversial provision of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) has now been pulled from both the House and Senate versions of the bill.

The provision in question would have required internet service providers to block the domain names of overseas websites accused of hosting content that was in violation of copyright, even in the absence of any proof.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, announced on Friday that "after consultation with industry groups across the country," he would remove the provision from the legislation pending further study. This came a day after Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said he would do the same for the Senate version, the Protect IP Act.

According to Greg Sandoval and Declan McCullagh at c|net, "Without the DNS provision, SOPA now looks a great deal more like the OPEN Act, a bill introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), which was designed to be an alternative to SOPA. A watered-down SOPA means Smith improves his chances of getting the bill through Congress but at this point, nothing is assured."

The entertainment industry has been lobbying heavily for both bills, but large segments of the technology industry have been just as strenuously opposed. Many critics of the bills have charged that meddling with the domain name system could "break the Internet," and pressure has been mounting on Wikipedia and other online giants to join a voluntary January 18 blackout already endorsed by Reddit and I Can Has Cheezburger as a form of protest.

It is not clear, however, how far the modification of the bills will go towards satisfying their most severe critics. "These bills need to be killed altogether," the Electronic Frontier Foundation's intellectual property director, Corynne McSherry, told c|net. "Our view all along has been they are not fixable."

McSherry noted that SOPA would still make it possible to cripple websites by withdrawing them from search engines, internet advertising services, and financial transaction providers such as PayPal. Some of these measures have already been used against Wikileaks, and opponents of SOPA are concerned that it too could become a tool of political censorship.

Photo by Ryan J. Reilly from Flickr