GOP leader McConnell asks Senate Dems to shelve anti-piracy bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called on Senate Democrats to shelve the Protect IP Act on Thursday, one day after a massive Web protest against the controversial anti-piracy measure.

“While we must combat the on-line theft of intellectual property, current proposals in Congress raise serious legal, policy and operational concerns," McConnell said. 

“Rather than prematurely bringing the Protect IP Act to the Senate floor, we should first study and resolve the serious issues with this legislation. Considering this bill without first doing so could be counterproductive to achieving the shared goal of enacting appropriate and additional tools to combat the theft of intellectual property. I encourage the Senate Majority to reconsider its decision to proceed to this bill.”

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has scheduled a procedural vote on the legislation for Tuesday afternoon, but McConnell's announcement is a devastating blow to the bill's chances of receiving the 60 votes needed to cut off debate and proceed to a final vote.

Support for the Protect IP Act and its House counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), began crumbling on Wednesday when thousands of websites staged an unprecedented protest against the measures.

Google, the most visited site in the world, plastered a black censorship bar over its logo. Wikipedia blacked out its English-version site and greeted visitors with an ominous warning: “Imagine a world without free knowledge.”  

GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), John Boozman (Ark.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) had signed on as co-sponsors of the Protect IP Act, but by Thursday, all of them had switched their position in the face of voter anger.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the Judiciary Committee's top Republican, has also said he opposes the bill in its current form, but has not withdrawn his co-sponsorship. 

No Senate Democrat has abandoned their support for the legislation from Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), but several who had not yet taken a position came out against the measure after Wednesday's protests.

An aide to the Senate Judiciary Committee said Leahy is working with Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and others to find a way forward for the legislation.

The piracy bills are designed to go after foreign websites that offer illegal copies of movies, music and TV shows. 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 being shut down.

House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has vowed to move forward with SOPA next month. 

This story was last updated at 6:24 p.m.