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.