Leahy preparing amendment to online piracy bill

This post has been updated since it was originally published.

On Thursday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said he is preparing a manager’s amendment to the Protect IP Act (S.968) that will take concerns about the bill’s possible effect on Internet service providers under consideration.

Critics of the bill say that PIPA, as the bill is known, forces ISPs to censor the Web when the government seizes a domain name that it has identified as a site primarily dedicated to online piracy.

In remarks on Vermont Public Radio, Leahy said he worked closely with ISPs to draft the bill, but is open to looking at the provision again.

“I remain confident that the ISPs – including the cable industry, which is the largest association of ISPs – would not support the legislation if its enactment created the problems that opponents of this provision suggest,” Leahy said, according to a transcript of the interview released by his office. “Nonetheless, this is in fact a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it.”

A cloture vote, which would move the bill to floor debate and allow Leahy to propose the amendment, is expected when the Senate resumes on Tuesday.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who placed a hold on PIPA after it was passed by the Senate Judiciary committee in May, has said he will filibuster the measure.

On Friday, Wyden spokesman Tom Caiazza said that Wyden still plans to boycott PIPA, even if Leahy amends the bill to remove the domain name provisions, saying the rest of the bill still threatens innovation, free speech and the American economy.

“It is welcome news that proponents of PIPA are finally accepting that it contains major flaws,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “Senator Wyden remains firm in his intent to block consideration of the PIPA bill until these issues are addressed and is committed to doing all he can to ensure that whatever legislative course is taken, that it is fully transparent, fully understood and fully considered by all those who value the Internet. ” 

Free Press, a media reform advocacy group, said that the tone of the proposed manager’s amendment is a step in the right direction, but that it still cannot support the bill or its counterpart in the House, the Stop Online Piracy Act.

“Both bills in their present form would alter the technical operations of the Internet, and threaten openness and freedom online with a series of overbroad measures,” said Free Press policy director Matt Wood in a statement. “Until now the process to craft these bills has involved no meaningful collaboration with stakeholders, but we are glad to see that the strong public opposition has moved the conversation in this direction.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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