Jan. 21, 2012 – 11:21 a.m.

SOPA in Cross Hairs

The online protest by thousands of websites against Internet piracy legislation has even drawn in the Gun Owners of America, whose leaders worry that the bill, if it became law, might be used against them by gun control groups.

Story Photo
SIGHTLINE: A gun rights group says opponents might use an Internet piracy law to cut its revenue. (KEVORK DJANSEZIAN / GETTY IMAGES)

The Gun Owners group, which along with the National Rifle Association keeps a vigilant watch on the Second Amendment, alerted its members last week that the legislation known as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) could “muzzle the Web” — particularly websites, such as the one the group maintains, that are dedicated to gun rights.

The similar bills moving through the Senate and House would give the Justice Department and the holders of intellectual property rights new legal tools to go after foreign-based websites that infringe on copyrights to sell music and movies illegally.

Gun Owners of America leaders say that provisions in the bill could enable the group’s opponents, such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, to move against it. One section of the House bill, the group says, would allow intellectual property rights holders to seek to prevent advertisers and companies that process payments, such as PayPal, from doing business with websites accused of pirating material. Turned against Gun Owners, the group says, the tactic could shut off its income.

“How would they do this?” the group asked rhetorically. “Perhaps by arguing that we were stealing their intellectual property by quoting their lying misrepresentations in our articles.”

The group finds the Senate bill less onerous than the House measure. But still, it told its members it is trying to head off the Senate bill anyway, out of an abundance of caution.

Proponents of both bills have argued that their provisions would apply only to foreign websites that are dedicated to activities such as selling illegal copies of movies, and not to the Gun Owners of America website.

But, much like tech sector opponents of the bill, the gun rights group sees the wording of the legislation as vague enough to sweep it in. And it is particularly nervous about the powers the bills would give the Justice Department, given their skepticism of Attorney General Eric H . Holder Jr.

Noting changes made to the Senate bill that tightened the relevant provisions, the group said, “We would feel a lot better about these protections if the attorney general were not Eric Holder, a ruthless ideologue who has demonstrated that he will go to any lengths to destroy the Second Amendment.”

A Justice Department spokesperson said such allegations are “baseless.”

Gun rights advocates historically have a lot of clout on Capitol Hill with members of both parties — a further complication for sponsors trying to rewrite online piracy legislation so it might pass both chambers.