The controversial Stop Online Piracy and Protect IP acts have been temporarily shelved as congressional lawmakers figure out their next move.
The Senate will postpone the vote on PIPA that was originally scheduled for Jan. 24, House Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Jan. 20. He made the decision after weeks of intense lobbying by technology companies and industry associations opposed to the bill, which culminated in a one-day Internet strike led by online site Wikipedia. Google collected over 4 million signatures on its petition protesting the bill.
The House Judiciary Committee will postpone markup on SOPA and “revisit the approach” on how to stop online piracy, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the committee’s chairman and lead sponsor of the bill, said in a statement shortly after Reid’s announcement.
“I have heard from the critics, and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy,” Smith said.
Congress will work with copyright owners and Internet companies to develop a consensus on the best approach to stopping piracy on the Web, Smith said. The bills themselves are not dead, as there is still a possibility lawmakers will move ahead after making some modifications.
“There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved,” Reid said.
Backed by software giants, the recording and movie industry, and pharmaceutical companies, the bills originally seemed unstoppable and guaranteed to pass in both houses. The Senate Judiciary had unanimously approved PIPA in May, and SOPA appeared to be moving quickly through the committee. Technology experts pointed out that some of the provisions in the bills would affect core Internet architecture. After this week’s online protests, several prominent backers of both bills withdrew their support, stating that Congress had to examine the technical issues in greater detail.
“Supporters of the Internet deserve credit for pressing advocates of SOPA and PIPA to back away from an effort to ram through controversial legislation,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said.
Issa introduced an alternative to SOPA, the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, or OPEN, in the House, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., introduced the Senate version on Jan 18, the day of the Wikipedia blackout. OPEN offers more protection to the sites accused of hosting pirated content and improves the enforcement process. Under OPEN, copyright holders would have to bring cases before the U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent agency that handles trademark infringement and other trade disputes.
“Millions of Internet users let it be known that their rights and use of the Internet should not be easily tampered with, and Congress has wisely signaled it has heard their concerns,” said Ed Black, CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the main sponsor of PIPA, called the decision to postpone the vote a “mistake.” He plans to still send a bill addressing online piracy “to the president’s desk this year.”
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.