Paul Ryan joins opponents of piracy bill

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee and a leading conservative lawmaker, on Monday slammed a controversial Internet piracy bill.

The Internet is one of the most magnificent expressions of freedom and free enterprise in history, Ryan said in a news release. It should stay that way.

While H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act, attempts to address a legitimate problem, I believe it creates the precedent and possibility for undue regulation, censorship and legal abuse.

Ryan said he would vote against the legislation should it come before the House.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would empower the Justice Department and copyright holders to demand that search engines, Internet providers and ad networks cut off access to sites dedicated to copyright infringement. The bill is aimed at blocking foreign sites such as The Pirate Bay that offer illegal copies of movies, music and television shows with impunity.

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The bill has divided lawmakers, but not along party lines, as there are blocs of support and opposition on both sides of the aisle. The opposition of Ryan, an influential conservative, could be significant if it spurs other Republicans to come out against the bill.

A broad coalition, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Hollywood, the recording industry and organized labor strongly back the bill. They say Internet piracy is destroying businesses and killing jobs.

But consumer groups and major Web companies, including Google, Yahoo and Facebook, warn that SOPA could stifle innovation and censor free speech.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has said the bill would criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet, and warned that it would create a Web-censorship regime similar to ones used in such authoritarian countries as China.

SOPA’s sponsor, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), said his bill does not apply to lawful websites, and opponents such as Google are “spreading lies.”

“Chairman Ryan is usually very knowledgeable on issues before Congress, which is why it’s surprising that he appears not to have closely read the manager’s amendment to the Stop Online Piracy Act," Smith said in an emailed statement, referring to the most recent draft of the bill.

"Had Chairman Ryan read the manager’s amendment, he would have realized that the bill targets only foreign websites dedicated to illegal activity," Smith said. "It’s not regulation to enforce the law against online criminals. And it’s not censorship to prevent online criminals from stealing the products and profits that rightly belong to American innovators."

He claimed foreign websites are costing American businesses billions of dollars and thousands of jobs every year.

"We enforce laws against criminals in the brick and mortar world," Smith said. "I am surprised that my colleague does not feel strongly about enforcing the law against criminals online as well.”

Smith’s Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the bill when Congress returns from its recess later this month. The Senate is also set to vote on its version of the legislation, the Protect IP Act, when Congress returns.

This story was updated at 1:41 p.m.