Congress puts anti-piracy bill on backburner amid uproar



       reid_harrydc_122311.jpg                     Congressional leaders announced Friday that they are putting controversial anti-online piracy legislation on the backburner, amid widespread objections from the tech community and others.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said he will postpone an upcoming vote on his chamber’s proposal. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, quickly followed suit, saying consideration of a similar House bill would be postponed “until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

Earlier in the week, major websites and Internet companies protested the proposal. Wikipedia blacked out its site for a day, while Google circulated a petition that generated more than seven million signatures. The White House also raised concerns about the proposal over the weekend, though later claimed the president was not taking sides.

Reid said in a statement that “in light of recent events,” he would postpone a test vote that had been set for Tuesday. He said he’s “optimistic” lawmakers can reach a compromise in the coming weeks.

“There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved,” he said. “Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs. We must take action to stop these illegal practices. 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.”

As Smith pulled his bill, House Speaker John Boehner acknowledged Friday that he had asked the committee chairman to work to build more “consensus” on the proposal.

At least a half-dozen senators who sponsored the measure now say they oppose it. All GOP presidential candidates also expressed opposition to the proposal in Thursday night’s debate.

The proposal would give the Justice Department new authority to seek court orders against foreign websites accused of copyright infringement. The Senate’s version is called the Protect IP Act; the House’s version is called the Stop Online Piracy Act.

The Protect Intellectual Property Act has strong support from the entertainment industry and other businesses that lose billions of dollars annually to intellectual property theft and online sales of counterfeit products. But it also has strong opposition from Internet-related companies that argue the bill would lead to over-regulation and censorship of the Internet.

The Tuesday vote was on whether to move the legislation to the Senate floor for debate. With the recent desertions and a statement Thursday by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell that it is too early to consider the bill, it appeared supporters lacked the 60 votes needed to advance the measure in the100-member chamber.

President Obama over the weekend appeared to share those concerns, but White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later said the administration is not taking sides and is just trying to find the right balance.

“Our firm belief is that we need to do something about online piracy by foreign websites, but we need to do it in a way that does not impinge upon a free and open Internet,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.