By Brendan Sasso - 01/18/12 02:58 PM EST
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday dropped his support for controversial legislation aimed at stopping online piracy.
Rubio, who was a co-sponsor of the Protect IP Act, which is the subject of a massive protest on the Web on Wednesday, said he was reversing course because of "legitimate concerns" about how the bill would affect the Internet.
Earlier this year, Rubio had signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill, saying it was "important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy."
Rubio's defection is a blow to supporters of the bill. The freshman senator is one of the most popular conservative Republican politicians in the country, and is thought to be a leading candidate for vice president on the GOP ticket.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), another popular Senate conservative, also announced his opposition to the bill on Wednesday.
"I support intellectual property rights, but I oppose SOPA & PIPA," he wrote on Twitter. "They're misguided bills that will cause more harm than good."
The Protect IP Act and its House counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), are designed to go after foreign websites that offer illegal copies of movies, music and TV shows with impunity. The bills would empower the Justice Department and copyright holders to demand that search engines delete links to sites deemed to be “dedicated” to copyright infringement. Ad networks and payment processors would be prohibited from doing business with the sites.
Movie studios, record labels and business groups say legislation is needed to curb online copyright infringement, which is hurting businesses and eliminating jobs.
But on Wednesday, thousands of websites, including Wikipedia, Google and Reddit, staged a massive protest against the legislation.
The English version of Wikipedia shut down entirely, redirecting users to a page criticizing the legislation.
Google, the most visited site in the world, placed a black box over its logo. Users who click on the box are sent to a petition claiming the bills would "censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American businesses."