With Congress embroiled in a fight over extending the payroll tax cut, House Judiciary Committee spokeswoman Kim Smith confirmed that Wednesday's scheduled SOPA hearing has been delayed. Smith said the committee expected to take the bill up again "early next year."

The latest delay comes after SOPA was essentially blocked from coming to a vote in the judiciary committee on December 16, when, according to CNET’s Declan McCullough, a “vocal minority of committee members” introduced “more than 50 amendments intended to delay and derail the legislation.” Despite a rising tide of public opposition, observers say the bill still has enough support to pass out of committee, which could pave the way for a full floor vote in 2012.

SOPA's future in 2012, however, could be clouded by a third bill known as OPEN (the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act). A version of OPEN was introduced in the Senate late last week by a bipartisan coalition of Senators including Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash), and it is also being backed by a number of House members, including Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).

“The OPEN act meets the same publicly-stated goals as SOPA or Protect IP without causing massive damage to the Internet,” Wyden said in a statement. The OPEN act would expand the ability of the International Trade Committee to investigate IP infringement. There are remedies similar to SOPA for rightsholders who can prove infringement, such as shutting down payment processing and advertising for rogue sites, but blocking web sites is not part of the bill, nor is scrubbing sites from search engines.

Wyden said OPEN would, "provid[e] a forum for due process without messing with the inner workings of the Internet. The same goals are met, without the collateral damage SOPA and Protect IP will leave in their wake.”

OPEN, however, is not likely to satisfy proponents of SOPA , who maintain that the "blocking" approach both SOPA and Protect IP take is critical, nor is it likely to satisfy Internet-based businesses, who find themselves in an ongoing struggle with Congress over sweeping legislative proposals. However, in a sign that the sponsors of OPEN may be willing to listen to all sides, they have set up a dedicated web page for the public to offers comments and criticism before the text of the bill is finalized.