The action by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) on the Stop Online Piracy Act came a couple of hours after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said that he would delay a cloture vote on a similar Senate bill, the Protect IP (Intellectual Property) Act.
The bills are intended to narrowly address the problem of piracy on foreign Web sites. They differ slightly, but both measures 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 recording 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 sites 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 measures, and several co-sponsors of the measures 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 in December, had been slated to continue in February.
Smith had remained firm in his resolve to move ahead with discussion of the bill earlier this week 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.
Sen. Ron Wyden called the delays a major victory for grassroots advocacy groups. Greg Sargent writes:
In a huge victory for grassroots online organizing, the Senate Dem leadership announced this morning that it was indefinitely postponing votes on the PIPA bill — the companion to SOPA — in the wake of massive protests.
The next question: Does the Senate Dem leadership really understand that its approach was a major threat to what makes the Internet a democratic force and that it needed a complete overhaul?
I just got off the phone with Senator Ron Wyden, the primary driver of opposition to the bill within the Senate, and he confirmed that the leadership grasps the depth of the problems with its approach, and is ready to address them head on.
“I talked to Senator Schumer last night, and I believe it’s going to be a new day in the Senate,” Wyden said. “What we’ve seen over the last few weeks from the grassroots is a time for the history books.” The win is a triumph over very powerful special interests, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, major content providers, and big unions, who had supported the bills.
Wyden and other opponents had three primary objections to the bills: They would have dramatically changed the domain name system, potentially tampering with the “architecture” of the internet, as Wyden puts it. They could have led to censorship, because they gave the U.S. Attorney General the power to seek court orders to take down web sites accused of piracy. And they could have created a legal quagmire within which big content companies could have crushed small start-ups.
“Senator Schumer has always been straight with me, and he has really now come to understand what’s happened in technology,” Wyden said.
Prior to the Congressional action Friday, GOP candidates for president offered their stances on SOPA at a debate Thursday in South Carolina. Sarah Halzack reports:
At Thursday night’s Republican primary debate in South Carolina, the four remaining candidates largely sought to draw contrasts, sharply attacking one another over issues both policy-oriented and personal.
But in asking their views on the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act, CNN moderator John King homed in on at least one topic that the candidates could agree on. All four presidential hopefuls said they objected to the bill, a position that puts them at odds with many Republicans in Congress.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) tackled the question first. “The idea that we’re going to preemptively have the government start censoring the Internet on behalf of giant corporations’ economic interests, strikes me as exactly the wrong thing to do,” he said.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney jumped in next, saying: “The law as written is far too intrusive, far too expansive, far too threatening to freedom of speech and movement of information across the Internet. It would have a potentially depressing effect on one of the fastest-growing industries in America.”
Noting that he was one of the first Republican members of Congress to oppose the bill, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) said that many of his GOP colleagues were “on the wrong side” of this issue. He cited his willingness to break ranks with his party and build a coalition around the issue as an example of why he’d be successful in the White House.
Rick Santorum, however, added a caveat in his opposition to SOPA. The former Pennsylvania senator said he was concerned that without some protections, intellectual property rights would be at risk and that there need to be some safeguards for copyrights on the Web.
“The Internet is not a free zone where anybody can do anything they want to do and trample the rights of other people,” Santorum said.
More from The Washington Post:
Ten things you need to know about SOPA and PIPA
E.U. Internet czar comes out against SOPA
Can Congress and the Web get along?
A strike for the Internet age