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SOPA Supporters Push Back Against Antipiracy Alternative

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Opponents of the Stop Online Piracy Act this week proposed an anti-piracy bill of their own that they claim will address counterfeiting issues without harming the Internet. But late on Friday the original bill’s sponsors moved to pour cold water on the new proposal.

The SOPA debate, recall, is about how Congress should respond to so-called “rogue websites” — sites run by overseas companies that sell pirated versions of American products like designer clothes, movies and software.

Brand owners, led by Hollywood, want to address these sites by pushing a bill through Congress that would effectively force search engines, ad companies and payment processors to police the sites or face penalties. Critics said the measures would stifle commerce and free expression.

Opponents of SOPA, who have been gaining momentum, appeared poised to turn the debate in their favor after a group of technology-savvy legislators led by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Or) introduced a bill that would address the rogue websites by vesting anti-piracy powers in the International Trade Commission, a body that has long dealt with foreign threats to the economy. (The New York Times (NYSE: NYT) has a good write-up of the competing proposals here.)

Late on Friday, however, an aide to SOPA’s main sponsor, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tx), began circulating talking points blasting the ITC proposal. Her email message slammed the proposal as a “dramatic and costly expansion of the federal bureaucracy” and said it would be ineffective, in part because it:

denies the ITC its traditional enforcement authority and protects the ability of criminals to continue to exploit search engines to promote the theft of American intellectual property.

The pushback may just be posturing ahead of an eventual compromise, or it may mean the bill’s sponsors intend to dig in and push for the original legislation. The SOPA bill was introduced with bipartisan support meaning that it had a strong likelihood of passing in the House. The ongoing controversy, however, has led some initial supporters to backtrack. At the same time, Wyden has vowed to use procedural maneuvers to stop the bill in the Senate — something he has already done by placing a hold on legislation similar to SOPA called the “Protect IP Act.”