As a result of the Jan. 18 protests, at least six senators who had co-sponsored the Senate legislation reversed their positions. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in statements at the time and again on Jan. 20, stressed that more consensus-building was needed before the legislation would be ready for a vote.

On Jan. 20, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was postponing a test vote set for Jan. 24 “in light of recent events.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, followed suit, saying consideration of a similar House bill would be postponed “until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

With opposition mounting, it was unlikely that Reid would have received the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation to the Senate floor.

The two bills would allow the Justice Department, and copyright holders, to seek court orders against foreign websites accused of copyright infringement. The legislation would bar online advertising networks and payment facilitators such as credit card companies from doing business with an alleged violator. They also would forbid search engines from linking to such sites.

The chief Senate sponsor, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., cited estimates that internet piracy costs the American economy more than $50 billion annually and that global sales of counterfeit goods via the internet reached $135 billion in 2010. He and Smith insist that their bills target only foreign criminals and that there is nothing in them to require websites, internet service providers, search engines, colleges and universities, or others to monitor their networks.

That didn’t satisfy critics who said the legislation could force internet providers to pre-screen user comments or videos, burden website operators with huge litigation costs, and impede new investments.

The White House, while not taking a specific stand on the bills, last week said it would “not support any legislation that reduces freedom of expression … or undermines the dynamic, innovative global internet.” On Jan. 20, White House spokesman Jay Carney said internet piracy is an issue that has to be addressed, “but everybody has to be in on it for it to work and get through Congress.”

The scuttling, for now, of PIPA and SOPA frustrates what might have been one of the few opportunities to move significant legislation in an election year where the two parties have little motivation to cooperate.

Until recently “you would have thought this bill was teed up,” with backing from key Senate leaders and support from powerful interest groups, said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who cosponsored the original bill but quickly dropped his backing on the grounds the bill could undermine innovation and internet freedom.

Moran said the “uprising” of so many people with similar concerns was a “major turnaround, and in my experience it is something that has happened very rarely.”

Moran said PIPA and SOPA now have “such a black eye” that it will be difficult to amend them. Reid, however, said that there had been progress in recent talks among the various stakeholders, and “there is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved.”

Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer protection and privacy advocacy group, said Google, Facebook, and their supporters “have delivered a powerful blow to the Hollywood lobby.” He predicted a compromise that doesn’t include what many see as overreaching provisions in the current legislation.


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