GOP Sen. Ayotte withdraws support for piracy legislation

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced on Wednesday he opposes the bill in its current form, but he did not formally pull his co-sponsorship.

No Democratic senators have withdrawn their co-sponsorship of the bill, but several who had not yet taken a position announced their opposition on Wednesday. 

In an unprecedented protest, thousands of sites, including Google, Wikipedia and reddit, either shut down on Wednesday or directed users to statements opposing the legislation.

Protect IP 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 the legislation would cut down on illegal file-sharing, which is hurting companies and eliminating jobs.

But Web companies warn the bills would stifle innovation and censor free speech. They say the legislation would impose an unreasonable burden on websites to police user-generated content and could lead to legitimate websites getting shut down.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will bring the Protect IP Act to a vote on Tuesday. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) plans to push ahead with SOPA next month.