POLITICS

SOPA Anti-Porn Amendment Rejected By Bipartisan Coalition

12/19/2011 03:23 pm ET | Updated Dec 20, 2011

WASHINGTON -- On Thursday, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers directed the federal government to deploy radical new powers to enforce and protect copyrights on pornography.

By a vote of 9 to 18, the House Judiciary Committee rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), which would have barred the Department of Justice from using the new tactics envisioned by an anti-piracy bill to protect "obscene and pornographic works."

Members of both parties came together to defeat the anti-pornography initiative, with Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.), and even hardcore social conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) all against Polis' amendment, and in effect, standing up to protect the porn industry.

The vote came during a hearing to modify the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, a bill which gives filmmakers and the federal government the ability to shutdown entire websites that they claim are involved in piracy -- without a trial or even a traditional hearing. And while the legislation is being pushed most aggressively by Hollywood movie studio and major record labels, the sweeping enforcement powers envisioned by the bill could be deployed by adult film auteurs, as well.

Yet a spokesperson for King explained his vote by arguing the Polis amendment would have actually led to more porn online. By enforcing the intellectual property rights of porn producers, King's office argued, the DOJ would be able to take down many websites that post porn illegally.

Polis is one of a handful of outspoken SOPA opponents on the Judiciary Committee, whose position is embraced by several major Silicon Valley companies alongside the ACLU, Internet experts and academics. Web programmers warn that the primary anti-piracy tactics envisioned by the bill would weaken online security measures and crack the very foundation of the Internet. The ACLU and other First Amendment advocates blast the destruction of entire websites without a trial -- rather than the removal of infringing material -- as a major free speech violation.

By introducing his porn rider, Polis forced SOPA supporters into casting an awkward vote. Determining whether a site takedown would protect pornographers would require the Justice Department to conduct additional reviews and open up takedowns to a new category of legal challenges. And that might make the process of website annihilation slower for Hollywood studios seeking to crackdown on pirated mainstream movies.

Hollywood has repeatedly cast SOPA as job-creating legislation, with Motion Picture Association of America Chairman Chris Dodd celebrating the bill as a way to protect actors and technicians alike. Economists say it's unlikely that the bill will actually create any jobs, warning that it's tactics are particularly problematic for legitimate tech start-ups, but film-friendly lawmakers have been happy to parrot the MPAA talking points. To date, however, no members of Congress have celebrated SOPA's potential to create more porn stars.

Several lawmakers ducked the vote by simply not attending. In fact, of the 10 amendments that received roll call votes on Thursday, Polis' porn amendment received the fewest total votes, with just 27, compared to as many as 34 on other amendments. Reps. Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) and Howard Berman (D-Calif.) curiously were able to vote on both the amendments offered before and after the porn amendment, but disappeared for the porn vote.

A spokesman for Polis insists that the amendment was not simply a humorous effort to put SOPA supporters in a difficult position. "It makes a serious point," Polis spokesman Chris Fitzgerald told HuffPost. "You're basically going to have the Justice Department policing all of this, and if we're going to be extending those resources, we shouldn't be prioritizing the property rights of pornographers over others."

Polis' unusual allies supporting his amendment also included members on both sides of the aisle, with SOPA opponents Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) joining strident social conservative Reps. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).

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