SOPA Is Dead: Congress Puts Brakes on Anti-piracy Bills

NEW YORK | Friday, January 20th, 2012 12:28pm EDT

Lawmakers stopped anti-piracy legislation in its tracks on Friday, delivering a significant victory for Internet companies that staged an unprecedented online protest this week to kill the previously fast-moving bills known as SOPA and PIPA.

SOPA Is Dead Congress Puts Brakes on Anti piracy Bills 01

Lawmakers indefinitely postponed anti-piracy legislation that pits Hollywood against Silicon Valley, two days after major Internet companies staged an online protest by blacking out parts of prominent websites. Photo: Siarhei Karotki/TheBlogIsMine

Lamar Smith, the chief sponsor of SOPA and the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, 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,” Smith said in a statement.

He added: “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.”

Smith also released the following statement on Friday:

“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 problem of online piracy is too big to ignore. American intellectual property industries provide 19 million high-paying jobs and account for more than 60% of U.S. exports.

The theft of America’s intellectual property costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while American innovators and job creators are under attack.

The online theft of American intellectual property is no different than the theft of products from a store. It is illegal and the law should be enforced both in the store and online.

The Committee will continue work with copyright owners, Internet companies, financial institutions to develop proposals that combat online piracy and protect America’s intellectual property.

We welcome input from all organizations and individuals who have an honest difference of opinion about how best to address this widespread problem. The Committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation.”

Smith’s stance comes just two days after he told the Wall Street Journal that he didn’t plan to back down on SOPA, telling the newspaper he expected to “move forward” with the bill in February.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said he would postpone a critical vote that had been scheduled for January 24 “in light of recent events.”

In a brief statement on Friday, Mr. Reid said there was no reason why concerns about the legislation cannot be resolved. He didn’t offered a new date for the vote.

The anti-piracy bills, known as PIPA and SOPA, are aimed at curbing access to overseas websites that traffic in pirated content and counterfeit products, such as movies and music.

The legislation has been a priority for entertainment companies, software companies, publishers, pharmaceutical companies and other industry groups who say it is critical to curbing online piracy, which they believe costs them billions of dollars each year.

But technology companies are concerned the laws would undermine Internet freedoms, be difficult to enforce and encourage frivolous lawsuits.

Public sentiment on the bills shifted in recent weeks after Internet players ramped up their lobbying.

White House officials weighed in on Saturday, saying in a blog post that they had concerns about legislation that could make businesses on the Internet vulnerable to litigation and harm legal activity and free speech.

Then on Wednesday, protests blanketed the Internet, turning Wikipedia and other popular websites dark for 24 hours. The other most popular websites including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit protested the proposed anti-piracy bills but did not shut down.

The Reactions

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.

Chris Dodd, chief executive of the Motion Picture Association of America and a former Democratic senator, said the stalling of legislation is a boost for criminals. “As a consequence of failing to act, there will continue to be a safe haven for foreign thieves,” Dodd said.

The Compromise

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.

The Alternatives

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.

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