In a significant victory for Internet companies, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith both indefinitely postponed votes on controversial anti-piracy bills known as SOPA and PIPA, the Huff Post reports.
“In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the Protect IP Act,” Reid said in a written statement. The vote was originally scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 24.
Lamar Smith, the chief sponsor of SOPA, said on Friday that he is pulling the bill “until there is wider agreement on a solution.”
“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy,” Mr. Smith said.
“It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products.”
The move comes after widespread protest on the Internet on Wednesday by Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Reddit and others. The sites signaled their displeasure with the bill by going dark.
The protest had quick results: several sponsors of the legislation, including senators Roy Blunt, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, John Boozman and Marco Rubio, have withdrawn their suppor for anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA.
The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate companion, Protect IP (PIPA), would have given the government broad powers to shut down websites accused of violating copyright laws – without a trial or a traditional court hearing.
Hollywood movie studios, entertainment companies, big publishers and other content creators would also get new powers to sue companies like banks and advertisers that do business with websites accused of piracy.
In the House, Mr. Smith had been planning to hold a committee vote on SOPA in February, which lobbyists on Capitol Hill expected to closely mirror whatever legislative language passed the Senate.
While the delayed Senate vote does not necessarily mark a final failure for the anti-piracy legislation, it almost certainly delays any vote for months.
During an election year in which lawmakers are particularly cautious about bringing up controversial legislation, the bill’s supporters now face a steep uphill battle to pass anything on piracy at all.
Hollywood had been pushing the bills hard for months, and had secured broad bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.
But free speech advocates warned that the power to shut down whole sites, rather than current powers to remove infringing content, created the prospect of widespread First Amendment violations, while tech experts noted that the anti-piracy tools envisioned by the legislation would threaten the basic functionality of the Internet.
The indefinite postponement of the bills drew quick praise from the Internet community, and ire from Hollywood.
“We appreciate that lawmakers have listened to our community’s concerns, and we stand ready to work with them on solutions to piracy and copyright infringement that will not chill free expression or threaten the economic growth and innovation the Internet provides,” a Facebook spokesman said.
While Motion Picture Association of America Chairman Chris Dodd, a former Democratic Senator from Connecticut, even threatened to cutoff campaign donations to Democrats if the bill didn’t get a hearing.
“Candidly, those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake,” Dodd said in an interview with Fox News.
“Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”
In a written statement issued after Reid’s announcement Dodd praised lawmkers who had supported efforts to crack down on internet piracy, and urged Congress to move forward with a compromise bill.
“With today’s announcement, we hope the dynamics of the conversation can change and become a sincere discussion about how best to protect the millions of American jobs affected by the theft of American intellectual property,” Dodd said.
Reid expressed hope on Friday that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who has been shepherding the bill through Congress, could help resolve differences in the legislation. He said: “I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks.”
Leahy slammed the Senate derailment of the anti-piracy legislation as a “knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem” but said he is committed to getting a bill signed into law this year.
Senator Ron Wyden introduced a bill last month that he said “meets the same publicly stated goals as SOPA or Protect IP without causing massive damage to the Internet,” while Representative Darrel Issa on Wednesday introduced a companion bill in the House.
Issa said SOPA and PIPA lacked a fundamental understanding of how Internet technologies work. The technology sector has shown more optimism about prospects for Issa and Wyden’s alternative bill, called the OPEN Act.
“It’s a great starting point for discussion, and we’re definitely very open to that,” said Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, a nonprofit that helped organize the Internet protests against SOPA and PIPA.