- The Washington Times - Friday, January 20, 2012

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called off a scheduled vote next week over a contentious online anti-piracy bill after several co-sponsors withdrew support amid mounting public and corporate backlash.

“In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote” on the Protect International Property Act (PIPA), the Nevada Democrat said Friday in a prepared statement.

Those events included an orchestrated protest wave of phone calls and petitions this week pushed by Internet firms, including a daylong “blackout” by the popular Wikipedia website.

Mr. Reid’s decision was reversal from his position earlier in the week, when he insisted he would go ahead with vote next week as scheduled.

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

“We welcome input from all organizations and individuals who have an honest difference of opinion about how best to address this widespread problem,” the Texas Republican said.

The Web-based protest was seen by tens of millions of people and generated millions of e-mails and phone calls to lawmakers, organizers say.

Mozilla Inc., the non-profit that makes the Firefox web browser, said in a statement on its Web site that nearly 40 million people in the United States who user its browser or follow them on Twitter or Facebook read protest messages. More than a million people e-mailed their congressman from just one of the many special Web pages set up by protest organizers, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group.

The protesters “sent a clear message to Congress,” said Sue Gardner, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, in a statement. The message, she said: “Don’t mess with free expression, don’t destroy the free and open Internet, don’t do the bidding of traditional corporate interests.”

But Mr. Reid also said Friday he was confident the Senate will be able to rework the bill and resolve “legitimate issues” raised by those who fear the measure — and a companion House version — would “censor” the Web and impose burdensome regulations on rising business powerhouses such as Google.

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.

“We must take action to stop these illegal practices,” Mr. Reid said. “We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day’s work, whether that person is a miner in the high desert of Nevada, an independent band in New York City, or a union worker on the back lots of a California movie studio.”

At least six Republicans who initially co-sponsored PIPA have backed away from the bill. Nearly all cited the earful they were getting from constituents.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican said his Democratic counterpart “made the right decision.”

“The Majority Leader’s decision to set aside the bill will give Congress the opportunity to study and resolve the serious issues with this legislation and prevent a counterproductive rush toward flawed legislation,” Mr. McConnell said.

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.

Shawn Waterman contributed to this article.



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