Lawmakers rush to drop piracy bills as websites go dark

Support for two controversial online-piracy bills began to crumble Wednesday in the face of protests from thousands of websites, including tech titans Google and Wikipedia.

The unprecedented online demonstration against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) — epitomized by a black censorship bar plastered over the Google logo — spurred a rush for the exits on Capitol Hill as lawmakers rapidly withdrew their support for the legislation.

Senate Republicans reacted quickly to the Web blackout, which exposed hundreds of millions of Internet users to the piracy bills for the first time.

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GOP Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntErnst, Fischer to square off for leadership post Facebook gives 500 pages of answers to lawmakers' data privacy questions Community development impact remains clear with NMTC post-tax reform MORE (Mo.), Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchLive coverage: FBI chief, Justice IG testify on critical report On The Money: Trump imposes B in tariffs on China | China blasts 'fickle' Trump, promises payback | Trump to name consumer bureau director next week Trump announces tariffs on billion in Chinese goods MORE (Utah), John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanOvernight Defense: Top general defends Afghan war progress | VA shuffles leadership | Pacific Command gets new leader, name | Pentagon sued over HIV policy Senate panel unanimously approves water infrastructure bill Senate GOP urges Trump administration to work closely with Congress on NAFTA MORE (Ark.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioHillicon Valley: Supreme Court takes up Apple case | Senate votes to block ZTE deal | Officials testify on Clinton probe report | Russia's threat to undersea cables | Trump tells Pentagon to create 'space force' | FCC begins T-Mobile, Sprint deal review Feehery: Betting on Trump Senate votes to block Trump's ZTE deal MORE (Fla.) dropped their support for the Senate version of the anti-piracy legislation, and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump plan to claw back billion in spending in peril Trump digs in amid uproar on zero tolerance policy Amendments fuel resentments within Senate GOP MORE (Texas), who leads the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, said the legislation should be put on hold.

Hatch, Rubio, Blunt and Boozman all pulled their sponsorship of the Senate bill.

“Rushing something with such potential for far-reaching consequences is something I cannot support,” Hatch said in a statement.

Sen. Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyJustice IG says report doesn’t assess ‘credibility’ of Russian probe DOJ watchdog probing Comey's memos, will release another report Grassley demands details on Comey's use of personal email MORE (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, announced late Wednesday he no longer supports the Senate piracy bill moving forward, though he declined to withdraw his sponsorship.

“Internet piracy is illegal, and we need to find a way that works for all sides,” Grassley said in a statement. “The current Protect IP Act needs more due diligence, analysis, and substantial changes. As it stands right now, I can’t support the bill moving forward next week.”

Other lawmakers staked out their opposition for the first time. Sen. Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (R-Ill.) and Tea Party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) came out against SOPA and PIPA, with DeMint labeling the anti-piracy measures “misguided bills that will cause more harm than good.”

“When protecting intellectual property rights, we must not undermine free speech, threaten economic growth or impose burdensome regulations,” DeMint tweeted.


It was a stunning shift in momentum for the piracy legislation, which until only recently had seemed destined for quick passage through Congress.

Despite the growing opposition, Senate Democratic aides said a scheduled cloture vote on PIPA will still be held next Tuesday, ensuring that senators on both sides will be forced to take sides.

The online demonstrations against the bills were a dramatic display of power by the tech industry, which has waged a full-on assault against the piracy bills and their supporters in the entertainment industry.

Wikipedia, the sixth most visited website in the world, blacked out its English-version site and greeted visitors with an ominous warning: “Imagine a world without free knowledge.” 

Google and Wikipedia weren’t the only big-name sites that tried to galvanize opposition. The popular discussion board reddit went dark at 8 a.m. and vowed to “fight back” against Congress.

Other sites participating in the protest included craigslist, Mozilla, Imgur, Raw Story, MoveOn.org, Cheezburger and the Consumer Electronics Association.

Facebook — perhaps the only rival to Google in Web strength — did not shut down, but the social network’s Washington, D.C., office posted a page that said the bills are “not the right solution” because of the “collateral damage they would cause to the Internet.” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, expressed his opposition in a post on his Facebook page and said the site will “continue to oppose any laws that will hurt the Internet.”

Under SOPA and PIPA, the government and copyright holders could force U.S. Web firms to block access to foreign sites dedicated to providing Americans with illegal copies of copyrighted and counterfeit goods. The entertainment industry contends anti-piracy laws are crucial for its survival, pointing to the widespread availability of illegally obtained content on sites like The Pirate Bay.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the main sponsor of SOPA in the House, told The Hill he has met with opponents of his bill and has found their arguments wanting.

“Any time I challenge them to come up with ways to reduce online piracy, I never hear any answers,” Smith said, noting that copyright holders must obtain a court order to go after rogue sites and that only “the worst of the worst” offenders would be targeted.

“I think their fears are groundless — they can’t point to any specific language in the legislation,” Smith said.

The Judiciary chairman said he plans to finish marking up SOPA next month en route to a possible floor vote.

But that markup might be for naught if Web companies succeed in scaring off supporters in Congress.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerZeal, this time from the center Juan Williams: The GOP's deal with the devil Hillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase MORE (R-Ohio) expressed a reluctance to move forward with SOPA on Wednesday, with both sides still divided over the bill and its potential consequences.

“Listen, this bill is in committee. It’s had a number of hearings. It went through a markup, and it’s pretty clear to many of us that there’s a lack of consensus at this point,” BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerZeal, this time from the center Juan Williams: The GOP's deal with the devil Hillicon Valley: Trump hits China with massive tech tariffs | Facebook meets with GOP leaders over bias allegations | Judge sends Manafort to jail ahead of trial | AT&T completes Time Warner purchase MORE said. “And I would expect the committee to continue its work to try to build a consensus before this bill moves.”

Opponents of the piracy bill seem to have turned public opinion in their favor despite the considerable advantages in lobbying strength, organizational resources and media coverage enjoyed by Hollywood, the recording industry, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other supporters.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDems seek to seize on data privacy as midterm issue Hillicon Valley: DHS gets new cyber chief | White House warns lawmakers not to block ZTE deal | White nationalists find home on Google Plus | Comcast outbids Disney for Fox | Anticipation builds for report on FBI Clinton probe Senate confirms Trump Homeland Security cyber pick MORE (D-Ore.) are pushing an alternative online-piracy bill, known as the OPEN Act, that many tech firms support. Issa was busy gathering co-sponsors Wednesday for OPEN after canceling a scheduled hearing on SOPA.

Issa told The Hill that House Majority Leader Eric CantorEric Ivan CantorThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by CVS Health — Trump’s love-hate relationship with the Senate Race for Republican Speaker rare chance to unify party for election Scalise allies upset over Ryan blindside on McCarthy endorsement MORE (R-Va.) had called him and “simply reiterated that in the spirit of us all finding a way to work on getting this together, he would offer me the protection from it going to the floor so that we had a chance to more fully get it vetted without necessarily the hearing that I had scheduled.”

Smith expressed scorn for the OPEN Act and said it would do little to combat copyright theft.

“That doesn’t solve the problem, in my judgment. I don’t know of a single foreign illegal website that would actually be sanctioned by that bill. It doesn’t solve any aspect of the problem and it’s expensive for anybody to use the vehicle they set in place,” he said.

— Brendan Sasso and Molly K. Hooper contributed reporting.