Senator vows filibuster of copyright infringement bill

The Protect IP Act would grant the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) powers to shut down websites that are accused of copyright infringement and could create daunting legal regulations and hurdles for online businesses by setting up penalties for sites that host user-generated content.

Such regulations, says Wyden, would open the door for onerous lawsuits against online businesses at a time when the sector stands out as a bright spot on the bleak American economic landscape.

“I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective," said Wyden when the bill passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the spring.

Supporters of the legislation, like Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), however, have argued that the new rules are needed to battle copyright infringement by bad actors that peddle counterfeit goods online.

“While estimates of intellectual property theft are difficult to quantify, reports indicate that it costs the American economy billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs,” said Leahy in the summer while speaking in the committee in support of Protect IPA act and other infringement legislation. “This is unacceptable in any economic climate, and it is devastating today."

Large trade organizations including the Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Recording Industry Association of America and the AFL-CIO support the legislation, causing both Wyden and Think Progress, a liberal activist organization, to characterize their fight in David versus Goliath terms.

Wyden, along with Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) Maria Cantell (D-Wash.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) have already placed a hold on the bill, but since it enjoys the explicit support of at least 40 senators it is likely Democratic leadership will be able to muster the 60 votes needed to bring it to the floor during the December session.

Wyden acknowledged on Monday the momentum behind the bill, but pointed out that he successful blocked another piece of copyright legislation with a hold earlier in the year. 

"We still have a big education job too," Wyden told the Hill. "There is an enormous lobby against us but we also know more and more Americans are coming to understand that this legislation is anti-innovation, anti-jobs, and would do damage to the Internet, which is one of the biggest sources of jobs."

Leahy, however, responded to the filibuster threat on Monday telling The Hill in a statement that he sees the kind of bipartisan support that is rare in Washington rising up behind the legislation, and suggested he expects it will clear the upper chamber. 

“The PROTECT IP Act is sponsored by 40 Senators on both sides of the aisle – few pieces of legislation can boast that kind of bipartisan support," Leahy told The Hill. "I expect that support will continue to grow when the Majority Leader schedules floor consideration of this important bill, which will promote America’s economy and protect American consumers.”

Think Progress touted Wyden’s filibuster plans on Monday, announcing the senator will fill hours of floor time by reading the names of individuals who oppose the bill’s passage.

Wyden explained in a video posted on a Think Progress website that although he supports the legislation’s purpose of preventing illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted intellectual property, he believes the legislation is too broad and would cause broad “collateral damage” in the online business community.

The Think Progress website also offers opponents of the legislation an opportunity to add their name to to the list from which Wyden would read from if he takes the floor for the filibuster.

So far, Democratic leadership has laid out no concrete plans on when the bill might hit the floor, but Wyden said he has informed the grassroots opposition they should be prepared for for the fight by the middle of next week.

This story was updated at 6 p.m. to reflect the statement from Leahy.