Marco Rubio, Orrin Hatch drop PIPA support as Wikipedia, Google protest online piracy legislation

January 19, 2012

Support in Congress for SOPA and PIPA, two bills designed to combat Internet piracy, dipped Wednesday after protests against the legislation by Google and Wikipedia among other companies increased pressure on lawmakers. As Hayley Tsukayama and Sarah Halzack reported:

Support for two online piracy bills in Congress appeared to wane Wednesday after opponents of the legislation staged a dramatic protest in which vast swaths of the Web effectively went dark.

Visitors to Wikipedia who tried to search the online encyclopedia’s usually trivia-filled pages were instead greeted by a message informing them that the bills could “fatally damage the free and open Internet.” On Craigslist, those looking to search the classifieds had to first read through a note urging them to contact their representatives to block the bills. And while you could still run searches on Google, a black censorship bar blocked the area where a cheery Google Doodle logo normally resides.

By the evening, a number of lawmakers had done an about-face on the legislation.

The Senate version of the bill lost four of its co-sponsors, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

“It is simply not ready for prime time and both sides must continue working together to find a better path forward,” Hatch said in a statement about the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

Sens. John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mark Rubio (R-Fla.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also released statements Wednesday saying that they had reservations and would not vote for the bill if it came up for a floor vote.

In the House, where lawmakers are considering a similar bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that “it’s pretty clear to many of us that there’s a lack of consensus at this point” on how to proceed with the bill.

While record and film industry groups in Hollywood and beyond support the Internet piracy legislation, many Internet companies oppose the bill, calling it a form of censorship. As Joshua Topolsky wrote:

As a content creator, I fully understand how precious ownership is and how painful theft can be. In fact, a sample of one of my records was used in a snippet of a car commercial in the early 2000s. The song was recorded by a jingle-maker who clearly figured no one would mind that he didn’t produce entirely original content. I was never compensated for what was blatant theft — and you know it’s bad when friends call you up on the phone and tell you they just heard your song on TV.

Yet I oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) — two laws that are doing the rounds in Washington — ostensibly meant to protect content creators from theft in the form of piracy.

And you should, too.

If you don’t know what SOPA is, you should probably spend some time on Wikipedia investigating the bill. Of course, Wikipedia shut down its site Wednesday to voice opposition to the laws (Google, Reddit and several other sites also protested similarly), so I guess that wouldn’t have been a good day to get your facts.

If Wikipedia is still unavailable by the time you read this, let me quickly explain the law. (As I said, there are actually two laws making waves, but for the sake of brevity, I’m only going to focus on SOPA.)

The gist of the bill is that it gives content creators the power to force ISPs, search engines or payment services to shut down access to a Web site that the owner believes violated its copyright. On its face, the bill is designed to stop access to foreign Web sites that are profiting off of stolen content. (U.S.-based business can simply be dragged into court.) In reality, it’s much more insidious than that.

While support for SOPA and PIPA may have waned in Congress, the issue of copyright protection on the Internet remains a problem. As Olga Khazan reported:

Brian Dunlap is no stranger to the casualties of illegal downloading. One of the clients at his digital media firm managed to sell 10 copies of an instructional DVD before it was posted online and downloaded 10,000 times for free within a matter of weeks.

In the controversy over the Stop Online Piracy Act, a rift has emerged between two camps of small business owners: Web entrepreneurs whose businesses rely on traffic from links to content they did not create and the independent artists and others who produce the material and want to be paid for it.

Whether the measure becomes law - the bills’ momentum has been stalled by mass online protests - does not erase the fact that the need for stronger anti-piracy legislation remains, say some content makers.

“SOPA is overreaching and needs some work,” said Dunlap, who is chief operating officer of Excelsior Media in Las Vegas, which provides video support to independent film makers.  “But what’s getting lost is that the protections we have now are inadequate. We’re very frustrated that opponents are guiding the dialogue.”

Some companies that support stronger anti-piracy laws have faced threats after SOPA opponents found them on a widely-circulated Google doc of alleged supporters.

While current copyright law puts the onus on content creators to spot copyright infringement and go after offending Web sites, SOPA and its companion legislation in the Senate called the Protect IP Act would shift the responsibility to search engines and Web sites by allowing the federal government to block sites that host copyright-infringing content. Detractors say that would be unduly burdensome for both large sites and for Web start-ups, and that the bills’ language is open to interpretation on how that would be handled.

More from The Washington Post:

Glenn Beck slams SOPA

On SOPA blackout day, Senate Web site has ‘technical difficulties’

Zuckerberg asks Facebook subscribers to stop SOPA

Boehner: No consensus on SOPA

SOPA debate: Who’s involved and what are the stakes?

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