US Senate Postpones PIPA Vote; EU Commissioner Joined Opposition

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The new age of lobbying through online public engagement showed its effectiveness today as the Senate announced the postponement of next week’s vote on controversial anti-piracy legislation that led to unprecedented protests on the internet.

“In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT IP Act,” Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said in a statement today. He said he expects a compromise can be reached in the “coming weeks.”

“There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved,” Reid 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.” Reid said “good progress” has been made in recent days of discussions.

The House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (Texas Republican) also announced postponement of the House version of the bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) today. “I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy,* he said in a statement. “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.”

“The Committee will continue work with both copyright owners and Internet companies to develop proposals that combat online piracy and protect America’s intellectual property,” Smith said. “We welcome input from all organizations and individuals who have an honest difference of opinion about how best to address this widespread problem. The Committee remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation.”

The House Judiciary Committee “will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution,” he said.

The decisions came after an outpouring of millions of participants in an 18 January “blackout” of websites in protest against the two bills (IPW, US Policy, 19 January 2012).

PIPA bill author Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, issued a statement criticising the decision not to at least hold debate on the bill.

“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.”

“Somewhere in China today, in Russia today, and in many other countries that do not respect American intellectual property, criminals who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching how the United States Senate decided it was not even worth debating how to stop the overseas criminals from draining our economy,” Leahy said.

Meanwhile, Neelie Kroes, European Commission vice-president responsible for the digital agenda, published a comment on her Twitter page stating her opposition to SOPA.

“Glad tide is turning on #SOPA: don’t need bad legislation when should be safeguarding benefits of open net,” she tweeted.

All four Republican candidates for the US presidency also were reported to have stated their opposition to the bill in its current form yesterday.

Former senator Chris Dodd, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), a strong bill proponent, issued a somewhat conciliatory statement on the delay, saying: “With today’s announcement, 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.”

But non-profit Public Knowledge cited news reports saying the MPAA has been threatening elected officials, including the president, with cutting off campaign funds, and has said the 18 January blackout constituted an abuse of their right to freedom of speech. “Threats like that are no way to conduct the serious, sober discussions needed to figure out exactly what ails the movie industry and to come up with solutions,” a Public Knowledge statement said.

William New may be reached at wnew@ip-watch.ch.

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  1. […] US nonprofit Public Knowledge today published an analysis of the election outcome that found the possibility that members of Congress might be more amenable to a reversal in the direction of ever more copyright protection, following the resounding defeats of the so-called SOPA and PIPA bills early this year (IPW, US Policy, 19 January 2012; IPW, US Policy, 20 January 2012). […]

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