U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has postponed a vote on the controversial Protect IP Act, scheduled for Tuesday, as a growing number of senators voice opposition to the copyright enforcement bill.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, had scheduled a cloture vote in an effort to cut off debate and override a filibuster of the bill. But more than 30 senators have come out against the bill in the past week, most of them responding to massive online protests over PIPA and the Stop Online Piracy Act, a similar bill in the House of Representatives.
"There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved," Reid said in a statement Friday. "Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year. We must take action to stop these illegal practices."
Also on Friday, Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and lead sponsor of SOPA, said he will entertain changes to his bill.
"I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy," Smith 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."
Reid's decision came as senators have flocked away from the bill. Opencongress.org, a congressional watchdog site, counted 45 senators either opposed or leaning against PIPA as of Friday morning, and only 32 supporting the legislation. PIPA supporters would need 60 votes to cut off debate and move forward with the bill.
Late last Saturday, Opencongress counted 39 senators supporting PIPA, and only 12 opposed to the bill. Late Wednesday, after the online protest, Opencongress counted 35 senators in favor of the bill and 31 opposed, meaning 14 senators have come out against the bill in the last day and a half.
Organizers of Wednesday's online protest, in which an estimated 50,000 websites went black, said 13 million people participated, including more than 7 million who signed a petition opposed to PIPA and SOPA linked on Google's homepage. Opponents sent 3 million e-mail messages to Congress, and "thousands" of people attended in-person protests in New York, San Francisco, and elsewhere, said Fight for the Future, a group opposed to the bills.
Reid's decision, and Smith's statement Friday, are major setbacks for the Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, two trade groups that have lead the charge in favor of the bill.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and lead sponsor of PIPA, said he will continue to work on ways to attack foreign websites engaged in the piracy and counterfeiting of U.S. products.
"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," Leahy said in a statement. "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."
Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, called on the Senate to scrap PIPA and "start from scratch" on a copyright enforcement bill.
"This is a wake-up call for Congress to abandon business as usual," Harold Feld, the group's legal director said in an email. "Simply tinkering with the details of this bill, or of its House companion, is not the way to go.
SOPA and PIPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring U.S. online advertising networks and payment processors to stop doing business with foreign websites accused of infringing U.S. copyright.
The DOJ could also seek court orders requiring search engines, and possible other sites, to stop linking to the accused websites.The bills would apply to foreign sites trafficking in pirated music and movies, but also to sites selling counterfeit goods, including handbags, cigarettes, medicine and clothing.The bills would also allow U.S. copyright holders to seek court orders targeting ad networks and payment processors.
Critics have said the bills would allow copyright holders to flood U.S. Web companies with lawsuits and would allow the DOJ and copyright holders to filter the Internet.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.