- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 19, 2012

Support for an anti-online piracy bill — drafted with rare bipartisan support — is eroding in the face of mounting public and corporate backlash.

About a half-dozen Republican co-sponsors of the Protect International Property Act (PIPA) pulled their support this week after an orchestrated protest wave of phone calls and petitions pushed by Internet firms, including a daylong “blackout” by the popular Wikipedia website.

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.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee and an initial sponsor of the bill, said more due diligence, analysis and substantial changes to the Senate bill are needed.

“It’s critical we protect the intellectual property rights of our businesses and fight online infringement, but at the same time, we can’t do harm to the Internet, the Constitution, or the ability of businesses to grow and innovate,” the Iowa lawmaker said.

Other Republican senators backing away from the bill include Republicans Orrin Hatch of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Roy Blunt of Missouri and John Boozman of Arkansas. Nearly all cited the earful they are getting from constituents.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday called on the chamber’s Democratic majority to set aside a scheduled Tuesday vote on the bill pending resolution of “the serious issues” with the legislation.

“While we must combat the online theft of intellectual property, current proposals in Congress raise serious legal, policy and operational concerns,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Mr. McConnell said voting on the bill now “could be counterproductive to achieving the shared goal of enacting appropriate and additional tools to combat the theft of intellectual property.”

Senate Democratic leaders still plan to vote next week on taking up PIPA and supporters were scrambling to make changes before then to answer some of the critics, but it was questionable whether they had the 60 votes needed.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat and PIPA’s main sponsor, is working on shoring up support for the legislation, said a senior Senate aide.

The bill, and the parallel Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, would allow 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 loses billions every year to foreign copyright violators, and from industries such as pharmaceuticals battling fake and sometimes harmful alternatives sold on the Internet.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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