U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) found himself at the center of a controversy he did not create this month.
The controversy stemmed from the proposed H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which would empower the U.S. Justice Department and copyright holders to demand that search engines, Internet providers and ad networks cut off access to sites “dedicated” to copyright infringement. The bill is aimed at blocking foreign sites that offer illegal and cheap copies of movies, music and television shows with impunity.
A broad coalition of forces, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, organized labor and advocates for Hollywood and the recording industry, are supporting the bill, which was sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).
However, consumer watchdog groups and major Internet companies, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook, are opposing SOPA and warn that the bill could stifle innovation and censor free speech.
The division between support and opposition on the bill is not falling directly down party lines.
Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, became a target of “Operation Pull Ryan” (www.pullryan.com), a Reddit campaign community, last month, and Internet rumors quickly spread that Ryan was a sponsor of the bill. He was not.
Ryan originally declined to take a stance on the bill. Eventually, as the Internet campaign against him grew, Ryan issued a statement announcing his opposition to the bill: “The Internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history. 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.”