The bills are intended to narrowly address the problem of piracy on foreign Web sites. They differ slightly, but both bills grant the Justice Department the power to order Web sites to remove links to sites that are suspected of pirating copyrighted materials.
Proponents of the legislation, including movie studios and record companies, say that the bill safeguards American intellectual property and protects consumers against counterfeit goods. But opponents argue that the legislation gives the federal government too much power to take control of Web sites and amounts to a form of Internet censorship.
“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. “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 decisions came just two days after prominent Web destinations such as Wikipedia and Reddit darkened their sites for 24 hours in protest and, along with others such as Google, encouraged visitors to urge their Congress members not to support the bill. The sites collected signatures from millions of users opposed to the proposals, and several co-sponsors of the bills withdrew their support of the online piracy legislation.
Smith said the House Judiciary Committee will postpone consideration of the legislation. Markup on the bill, which began last month, had been scheduled to continue in February.
Smith had remained firm earlier this week in his resolve to move ahead with discussion of the bill, but said Friday that he is willing to work with copyright owners and Internet companies to develop a consensus on the best approach to stopping piracy on the Web.
Reid said he would delay the vote scheduled for Tuesday to begin consideration of PIPA until the Senate Judiciary Committee could make more progress. “We made good progress through the discussions we’ve held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks,” Reid said.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the main PIPA sponsor, said although he respects Reid’s decision to postpone the vote, he thinks it was a mistake.
The “day will come when the Senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem,” Leahy said in a statement. He said that he is determined to address the problem of online piracy and wants to work with other members of Congress to “send a bill to the President’s desk this year.”
Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.