Opposition to piracy bill shines spotlight on influence of e-lobbying

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Sometimes it pays to complain.

Telephone calls and emails started flowing into congressional offices across Capitol Hill early last week by constituents upset about an online anti-piracy bill scheduled for a floor vote a week later. The pace reached a crescendo Wednesday, to the point where some Senate Web servers sputtered.

By Thursday, a half-dozen Republican co-sponsors of the Senate’s Protect International Property Act pulled their support, with nearly all citing the e-backlash as a reason. And by the afternoon Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, did something he vowed earlier in the week he wouldn’t do: table the measure indefinitely.

“The American people stopped this legislation,” Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said on the Senate floor Monday evening. “It was a grass-roots victory for the history books.”

Of the 1,500 calls and emails Sen. John Boozman’s office received last week, all but two were opposed to the measure, his office said. The Arkansas Republican, an initial co-sponsor of the bill, said he backed off based on the public feedback he received.

After Mr. Reid’s decision, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, also said he would postpone consideration of his chamber’s version of the bill “until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

The public backlash was pushed by well-orchestrated protests by Internet firms, including a Wednesday “blackout” by the popular Wikipedia website. And more than 7 million people signed a Google petition protesting the Senate bill and its counterpart in the House, saying the measures would censor the Web and impose burdensome regulations on U.S. businesses.

But Patrick Creamer, a spokesman for Mr. Boozman, said the push back against the legislation seemed “organic.”

“Many times with campaigns like this - the Facebook posts, Twitter activity, emails and calls - come from all over the country, but … in this instance, it was from Arkansas,” Mr. Creamer said.

The office of Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the SenateJudiciary Committee and an initial sponsor of the bill, also said calls it received last week on the bill appeared grass-roots in nature.

“Our folks [taking the calls] said it was pretty organic,” Grassley spokeswomen Beth Levine said. “It seems like a lot of campaigns where you get this many calls [the callers] have something they want to read, and that didn’t seem to be the case nearly as much.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell E. Issa, California Republican, last week praised opponents of the bills for forcing congressional leaders “to back away from an effort to ram through controversial legislation.”

But a spokeswoman for Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and the Protect International Property Act’s main sponsor, dismissed claims the Senate bill was rushed without due process, saying numerous online anti-piracy hearings have been held since the senator introduced the measure two years ago.

“It’s not a new issue and it’s not a new issue he’s been hearing from people about,” said Leahy spokeswoman Erica Chabot. “There has been an awful lot of process in the judiciary committee with respect to this legislation and the issue.”

The push behind Senate measure and the parallel Stop Online Piracy Act in the House is far from dead. Leaders in both chambers say they will work to rewrite the bills while taking the public’s concerns into account.

The pair of anti-piracy bills would have allowed the Justice Department and copyright holders to seek court orders against foreign websites that steal from American content creators. It would bar advertising networks and payment facilitators such as credit card companies from doing business with the offending websites.

The bills have the strong support of the entertainment industry, which claims to lose billions of dollars every year to foreign copyright violators, and from industries such as pharmaceuticals battling fake and sometimes harmful alternatives sold on the Internet.

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