SOPA action delayed in House until ‘wider consensus’

January 20, 2012

The main sponsor of a House bill targeting online piracy announced Friday that he will postpone further action on the measure that has triggered fierce protests, blackouts from Internet sites and some rethinking among lawmakers.

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. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the main sponsor of PIPA, said that although he understands and respects Reid’s decision to postpone the vote, he believes 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 still 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.”

Related stories:

PIPA/SOPA debate: Where do the GOP candidates stand?

SOPA protests illustrate changing legislative debate in Washington

WATCH: GOP candidates talk about SOPA bill

Senate PIPA vote to be delayed

FAQ: What’s next for SOPA, PIPA

SOPA protests illustrate changing legislative debate in Washington

Google: SOPA petition collects 7 million signatures

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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