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SOPA Critics Win Round In Fight Over Internet Control


(RFE/RL) — A storm of protest from free-speech activists, popular Internet sites, and Internet users has prompted several U.S. lawmakers to drop their support for proposed Internet antipiracy legislation, including some co-sponsors of the controversial bills.


Legislators switched sides as protests on January 18 blanketed the Internet and drew attention around the world to what the lawmakers now say are flaws.

The “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) in the House of Representatives and the so-called “Protect Intellectual Property Act” (PIPA) in the U.S. Senate have been a top priority for lobbyists from entertainment companies, publishers, pharmaceutical firms, and others who say the legislation is critical to reducing online piracy.

The aim of the bills is to curb access to overseas websites that sell pirated films, music, and other copyrighted content — U.S. companies would be barred from doing business with these sites.

But Internet sites and tech companies argue that the proposals are so heavy-handed they would undermine innovation and free-speech rights, while also compromising the function of the Internet.

Wikipedia, the world’s free online encyclopedia, shut down for a day on January 18 in protest. Google and others used black censorship bars to draw attention to details in the draft laws.


Bill’s Sponsors Start Backtracking

As a result, a deluge of Internet users urged their lawmakers to drop their support.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida who co-sponsored PIPA, says he has decided to withdraw his support for the bill. Rubio urged Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada to delay plans to introduce the bill for a vote in the weeks ahead.

Other U.S. senators who say they are dropping support for PIPA include Republicans Roy Blunt of Missouri, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Orrin Hatch from Utah, John Boozman from Arkansas and John Cornyn of Texas.

Senator Cornyn said it is “better to get this done right rather than fast and wrong.” Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about unintended damage to the Internet and innovation in the tech sector require a more thoughtful balance, which will take more time.”

Legislation ‘Could Damage Internet Architecture’

Andrew Rasiej, chairman of the group New York Tech Meetup, helped organize a street protest against the bills in front of the New York offices of U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Billibrand.

“Congress, at the behest of moneyed special interest representing copyright-holding industries, is proposing to redesign the Internet in a way that is detrimental to our industry and to the open web,” he said.

“If they are successful, they will not only stifle innovation and investment in emerging technology companies in New York and elsewhere, they will irrevocably damage the architecture on the Internet so as to embolden censorship around the world.”

Protester Ian Bassin noted that if the bills are passed in their current form, entire websites could be shut down for a single copyright infraction uploaded by any user of the page.

“I think it sends the wrong signal to give the government the ability to shut down websites,” he said. “The web should be a free medium that promotes democracy around the world. When America is trying to convince China and Iran that they shouldn’t be shutting down the web, we shouldn’t be setting a bad example.”

The White House has said it, too, has reservations about the legislation.


RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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