The four leading presidential candidates voiced opposition to the Stop Online Piracy and Protect IP Acts in a televised debate Thursday. The most forceful stance may have come from frontrunner Mitt Romney, who called the bill written by one of his key backers a threat to freedom of speech.
"The truth of the matter is the law as written is far too intrusive, far too expansive," Romney said. "It would have a depressing impact on one of the fastest growing industries... I'm standing for freedom."
SOPA, the House version of the bill, was written by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who is one of Romney's biggest backers and endorsed the former Massachusetts governor for president in October. SOPA and its Senate counterpart, PIPA, would block access to sites accused of violating U.S. copyright laws. The measure has been called Draconian by opponents who say it would fundamentally change the free flow of information across the Internet. Proponents, ranging from the NBA to Universal, say the measure is needed.
Opposition by the Republican presidential candidates comes as overall GOP support for the measure deteriorates, which has started to push the measure towards partisan lines and has increasingly forced Democrats to take the defensive in moving the legislation forward. That's a change from earlier this month, when none of the Republican presidential candidates had taken a firm position on SOPA.
In addition to Romney's denouncement of the bill, the other three candidates also made anti-SOPA comments in Thursday's debate:
- Newt Gingrich said the bill, as written, censors the Internet. "The idea that we're going to preemptively have the government start censoring the Internet on behalf of giant corporations' economic interests strikes me as exactly the wrong thing to do," he said.
- Ron Paul said SOPA and PIPA threaten freedom. ""This bill is not going to pass but watch out for next one, and I am pleased that the attitude is sort of mellowed up here, because the Republicans unfortunately have been on the wrong side of this issue," he said.
- Rick Santorum may have been the least commital. While Santorum took the populist stance of opposing SOPA and PIPA, he was quick to add the Internet is not somewhere "where anyone can do anything they want."
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has said it has reservations about the way the law is currently written. But in a statement Saturday, the White House said it remains committed to giving law enforcement new tools to fight online piracy.
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore