Controversial legislation intended to crack down on Internet piracy has hit a roadblock on Capitol Hill thanks in part to a World Wide Web protest this week that drew attention and massive opposition to the bipartisan effort.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D. –NV) has postponed a vote he had scheduled for the measure next week, and the legislation was pulled in the House from committee consideration until numerous concerns are addressed, lawmakers said.
The Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) and its companion bill in the House, the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA), are under fire from the Internet industry and advocates who say the legislation is a threat to freedom of speech.
It would give authority to the Justice Department to shut down access to foreign web sites accused of copyright infringement, but companies like Google and YouTube are concerned it could negatively impact their sites as well.
Wikipedia and other websites protested the bill on Wednesday by blocking access to their content and urging readers to contact members of Congress.
The Capitol Hill switchboard was reportedly swamped with calls of opposition, and Congress appears to have gotten the message.
“There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved,” Reid said Friday morning.
“Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs,” Reid said. “We must take action to stop these illegal practices. We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day’s work, whether that person is a miner in the high desert of Nevada, an independent band in New York City, or a union worker on the back lots of a California movie studio.”
Reid originally scheduled the vote for Tuesday, But Republican lawmakers urged him in letter to ditch the effort until they could work out their differences.
“We all agree that we must do more to combat the on-line theft of intellectual property, but I was encouraged to see the Democrat majority agree with our call to set aside the PIPA bill, a proposal that raised serious legal, policy and operational concerns,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R. –KY).
Further action on SOPA was delayed on the House side by Rep. Lamar Smith (R. –TX), who said he wants to address concerns expressed by copyright owners and Internet companies to develop a better proposal to protect America’s intellectual property.
“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,” said Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The legislation is intended to protect 19 million high-paying jobs in the intellectual property industry, the theft of which robs those businesses of $100 billion a year, Smith said.
“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,” Smith said. “Congress cannot stand by and do nothing while American innovators and job creators are under attack.”
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