UPDATED Jan. 18, 12:20 p.m. ET -- Opponents of controversial federal anti-piracy legislation known as SOPA seem to be picking up steam. Supporters of the legislation in both houses of Congress appear to have backed off, the Obama administration has expressed concerns with the legislation, and an Internet blackout slated for Wednesday is well under way, spearheaded by Wikipedia.
A House subcommittee was slated to prepare the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, for a vote later this month; the Senate had planned a vote on the companion bill, PIPA (The Protect IP Act,) even sooner. Now, it appears both votes will be delayed.
SOPA opponents rallied around an effort to call attention to the legislation by convincing Web sites to "go dark" on Wednesday, and display only a simple message of protest on a black background. On Monday, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales announced that his website will go dark for 24 hours starting at midnight ET Tuesday, following the lead of other high-profile promised blackouts. Reddit.com went black for 12 hours starting at 8 a.m. on Wednesday. The hacker group Anonymous also encouraged others to join in the 12-hour blackout, and garnered a lot of attention with its Twitter post using the hashtag #BlackoutSOPA.
Google did not black out its site, but it covered its trademark Google logo in black and included a link to a page titled "End Piracy, not Liberty."
Meanwhile, several signs point to SOPA legislation hitting some serious speedbumps. On Saturday, a statement issued by White House cyberczar Howard Schmidt, and other administration technology officials, threw cold water on SOPA's anti-piracy efforts.
"Our analysis of the DNS filtering provisions in some proposed legislation suggests that they pose a real risk to cybersecurity and yet leave contraband goods and services accessible online," says the response, referring to SOPA's proposal to allow law enforcement officials to blacklist Web sites -- cut them off from U.S. users -- that allegedly encourage piracy. The response, posted at WhiteHouse.gov on Saturday, does not take a position on SOPA, but it cautioned lawmakers that the administration will oppose anti-piracy efforts that might increase censorship.
"Any effort to combat online piracy must guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small," the memo reads.
In Congress, supporters of the legislation have recently indicated they are open to changing their proposals.
Late Friday afternoon, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), said he planned to tone down the enforcement powers that would be granted by the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). A new version would not include the most controversial provision, which would have enabled federal authorities to "blacklist" domains that were alleged to be involved in distribution of pirated content, effectively cutting portions of the Web off from all U.S. users.
"After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove Domain Name System blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision," Smith, one of SOPA's chief backers, said in a statement. "We will continue to look for ways to ensure that foreign websites cannot sell and distribute illegal content to U.S. consumers."
The move comes after a similar step taken on Thursday by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), sponsor of the Senate version, PIPA. Leahy said complaints from "human rights groups, engineers, and others" had convinced him to change his thinking on the bill.
"I remain confident that the ISPs — including the cable industry, which is the largest association of ISPs — would not support the legislation if its enactment created the problems that opponents of this provision suggest. Nonetheless, this is in fact a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it," he said in a statement on his website.
"As I prepare a managers’ amendment to be considered during the floor debate, I will therefore propose that the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied before implemented, so that we can focus on the other important provisions in this bill, which are essential to protecting American intellectual property online, and the American jobs that are tied to intellectual property. I regret that law enforcement will not have this remedy available to it when websites operating overseas are stealing American property, threatening the safety and security of American consumers."
While Senate debate on PIPA is slated for later this month, advocacy group Public Knowledge said on Friday that it believed debate on SOPA was going to be postponed until February.
Either way, removal of DNS blacklisting provision is unlikely to satisfy critics of Congressional anti-piracy efforts. They find other provisions — such as the ability for the Justice Department to cut off payment processing for alleged "rogue" websites — to be nearly as problematic.
"The DNS filtering provisions represent only some of the fundamental flaws in PIPA," the Electronic Froniter Foundation said in a statement to Geek.com. "This bill, and its House counterpart, cannot be fixed — they must be killed."
Meanwhile, discussions about SOPA hung over the annual CES geek-fest, held this week in Las Vegas. At the trade show, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) talked up his legislative alternative to SOPA, the OPEN Act, or Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act. He also promised to hold hearings next week on the issue. (For more, see this story.)
Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and Comcast/NBC Universal. Microsoft publicly opposes SOPA in its current form. Comcast/NBC Universal is listed as a supporter of SOPA on the House Judiciary Committee Web site.