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Online Piracy Legislation Stalled Indefinitely

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Friday that he would put off a test vote on the Senate version of the online piracy bill, the PROTECT IP Act.

Legislation to combat online piracy may be dead for the year, now that Senate and House supporters have postponed action on their respective versions following intense opposition from popular websites including Google and Wikipedia.

The current chances for a compromise appear to be low, which makes a comeback this year unlikely, according to some insiders.

“I think that body is buried for the year,” one tech industry lobbyist told Roll Call.

The move by Senate and House backers to cancel scheduled votes and other actions was seen as a transformational victory for a new-media lobbying campaign by the technology sector that vanquished the Hollywood movie barons.

“It was really fascinating to see a group of people who created incredible air cover completely demolish an industry that has won virtually every major battle in Washington for years,” the lobbyist said.

Supporters said it is too early to write an obituary for the bills. They said they are hopeful discussions will yield changes to the measures, which in turn could win the support of the Web community.

“We hope the dynamics of the conversation can change and become a sincere discussion about how best to protect the millions of American jobs affected by the theft of American intellectual property,” said former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), who is head of the Motion Picture Association of America.

David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center, said, “The chamber will continue to work with Congress to help advance solutions that will both effectively protect intellectual property while preserving a vibrant and innovative Internet.”

Their comments came after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced Friday that he would put off a test vote on the Senate version of the measure, the PROTECT IP Act. That vote had been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said Friday he would postpone his committee’s consideration of the House version, known as the Stop Online Piracy Act.

“It is clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products,” Smith said.

For the House bill, however, the beginning of the end came Wednesday — the day many websites were blacked out in protest — when the bill’s top proponents, Smith and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), met with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), the GOP leader at the heart of House discussions about the bill, for an emergency discussion, a GOP aide said.

Cantor has focused on technology issues and quietly courted the entertainment sector for financial and policy support. But the bill pitted those two key constituencies — Hollywood and Silicon Valley — against each other, putting Cantor in a difficult position.

As controversy over the legislation increased, Smith and Goodlatte had hoped Cantor would swoop in to help usher the bill to the floor, much like he did on patent reform legislation.

Instead, Cantor appeared to side with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who had been waging war with Smith over SOPA and promoting his own legislation to tackle the problem.

For instance, when Issa and Cantor relayed the contrasting messages they’d received from Cantor to Roll Call, Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon said the Majority Leader “has told both chairmen that there are major issues of concern that need to be addressed prior to moving forward.”

Because Smith had just said Cantor and other leaders were “supportive of our efforts,” the spokeswoman’s quote appeared to be a major blow to Smith.

It is unclear what Cantor told Smith and Goodlatte in the emergency meeting; none of the three parties would comment.

But shortly afterward, Smith issued a statement saying, “We will continue to work with members, outside organizations and stakeholders to reach consensus,” a shift in tone for the chairman.

Though the chances for a deal appeared slim, Republican and Democratic leaders said last week that they would continue to look for one.

In a statement, Reid said he hopes the concerns raised by the website owners can be addressed so Congress can act to help protect copyrighted material on the Internet.

“There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved,” Reid said.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday evening called on Democratic leaders to delay the scheduled vote, and on Friday, he praised Reid.

“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,” McConnell said.

The Senate’s PIPA has been the target of intense opposition from popular Web-based firms, which contend that the measure is overly broad and would create unintended consequences that could stifle innovation, limit Americans’ free speech rights, increase the risk of cyber-attacks and undermine how the Internet functions. Several websites went dark Wednesday to protest the measure, a move that received a lot of media coverage.

PIPA would allow the Department of Justice as well as individual copyright owners to bring legal action against Internet users who post copyright-infringing content.

Opponents say the measure would provide the government too much leeway to shut down websites without first notifying their users or owners.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who drafted the measure and had been shepherding it through the Senate, chided his colleagues for bowing to pressure too quickly.

“I understand and respect Majority Leader Reid’s decision to seek consent to vitiate cloture on the motion to proceed to the PROTECT IP Act,” Leahy said. “But 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.”

Of the bill’s 40 original co-sponsors, at least seven wavered in their support, while a raft of other Senators on both sides of the aisle came out against the measure last week.

Janie Lorber contributed to this report.

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