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SOPA Backers Lose Ground

Protests against anti-piracy bills convince some lawmakers to drop support for the legislation.

The campaign against the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) appears to have been heard--at least by many members of Congress who'd previously stood behind the proposed laws.

Numerous websites--including Wikipedia--went dark Wednesday, in what supporters dubbed the "largest online protest in history." Google's site, meanwhile, blacked out its name and offered links to more information about SOPA and PIPA, which the company said threatened to "censor the Web and impose burdensome regulations on American businesses." Google also posted an online petition against SOPA and PIPA. By 4:30 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, Google said 4.5 million people had signed its petition.

By the end of Wednesday, 18 senators who'd supported PIPA--including seven co-sponsors of the bill--had dropped their support. By OpenCongress' count, that means that 33 senators still openly support PIPA, while 23 are now on record as opposing the bill, and another 13 said they're leaning against it. But the backers of both bills have already dropped certain provisions, such as PIPA's requirement that websites must filter DNS to block rogue websites.

[ Is piracy more of an IT problem or a business problem? Learn why Piracy Equals Market Failure. ]

The two bills, which are largely identical, would empower the Department of Justice to cut off funding for foreign websites accused of hosting pirated movies or music, and block anyone inside the United States from visiting those sites by requiring search engines, payments processors, service providers, and advertising networks to comply with Justice Department takedown or finance-blocking orders.

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a PIPA co-sponsor, Wednesday explained why he was dropping support for PIPA in its current form. "After listening to the concerns on both sides of the debate over the PROTECT IP Act, it is simply not ready for prime time and both sides must continue working together to find a better path forward," he said in a statement. "Given the legitimate vocal concerns, it is imperative that we take a step back to allow everyone to come together and find a reasonable solution." Hatch last week had joined five other Republican senators who wrote to ask Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to delay the vote on PIPA that's still scheduled for January 24.

Likewise, House Judiciary committee chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), SOPA's chief sponsor, said Tuesday that he still expects to bring that bill before the committee in February for debate.

Smith reiterated his support for SOPA Wednesday. "Contrary to critics' claims, SOPA does not censor the Internet. It only targets activity that is already illegal, and only targets foreign websites that steal and sell America's technology, inventions, and products. And it is similar to laws that already govern websites based in the U.S.," he said in a statement. But he added that he was "open to constructive suggestions that protect American inventors and intellectual property rights holders."

Not all SOPA and PIPA media campaigns Wednesday criticized the anti-piracy bills. For example, advertisements from Creative America, a pro-Hollywood advocacy group, appeared Wednesday online and on a billboard in New York's Times Square. The advertisement began: "What to do during an Internet blackout" and suggested the public read books, watch movies, or listen to music, reported the Wall Street Journal.

In addition, said the Journal, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) said it plans to launch an advertising campaign soon to counter "misconceptions" about both bills. But the MPAA's chief, former Senator Christopher Dodd, finds himself in an awkward position, as he's legally barred from lobbying Congress or making any public statements about legislation for two years after leaving office.

More than 700 IT pros gave us an earful on database licensing, performance, NoSQL, and more. That story and more--including a look at transitioning to Win 8--in the new all-digital Database Discontent issue of InformationWeek. (Free registration required.)

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