SOPA sent back to the drawing board in wake of Internet protests
The SOPA online piracy bill that helped spark this week's unprecedented Internet protests will be redrafted, its lead sponsor said Friday.
The move came shortly after the Senate postponed a key vote on the companion PIPA bill scheduled for next week and amid calls for consensus before Congress moves forward on any legislation to address the problem of foreign piracy websites.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) had hoped to push his Stop Online Piracy Act through the committee next month. But in the wake of growing opposition triggered by Wednesday's Internet blackout, Smith said the committee "will postpone consideration of the legislation until there is wider agreement on a solution."
"I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy," Smith said. "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 his committee "remains committed to finding a solution to the problem of online piracy that protects American intellectual property and innovation."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also said he was committed to addressing the problem. But he blasted opponents of his Protect Intellectual Property Act, which unanimously passed the committee last year and appeared headed for approval by the full Senate within weeks before the Internet protests caused several colleagues to withdraw their support.
Leahy said he respected the decision Friday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to postpone Tuesday's planned procedural vote, which would have brought the bill to the full Senate so it could be debated and amended. And Leahy said he was committed to revising the bill to address opponents' concerns and getting legislation passed this year.
But he warned, "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.
Christopher Dodd, head of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, echoed Leahy's concerns about the impact of the delay and said he hoped the additional time would allow "the dynamics of the conversation" to change.
"As a consequence of failing to act, there will continue to be a safe haven for foreign thieves; American jobs will continue to be lost; and consumers will continue to be exposed to fraudulent and dangerous products peddled by foreign criminals," Dodd said.
Opponents of the legislation were thrilled with the retreat and called for a consensus on how to tackle the problem of foreign piracy websites.
"Over the last two months, the intense popular effort to stop SOPA and PIPA has defeated an effort that once looked unstoppable but lacked a fundamental understanding of how Internet technologies work," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), who has introduced narrower legislation favored by the Internet industry.
The White House also has called for consensus legislation.
Internet activists said Congress should start over in gauging the true scope of the online piracy problem and redrafting the legislation.
"Simply tinkering with the details ... is not the way to go," said Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, a digital rights group.
-- Jim Puzzanghera in Washington
Photo: Nadine Wolf demonstrates against the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) outside the offices of Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday in New York. Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images.