By Justin Sink - 01/20/12 02:30 AM EST
CHARLESTON, S.C. – The GOP presidential candidates denounced proposed internet piracy laws in the House and Senate that would give the government the ability to block access to websites with copyrighted material.
The Republican contenders each argued in Thursday night's presidential debate that the proposed laws - SOPA and PIPA - were too severe in their effort to restrict the trade of copyrighted materials. Versions of the legislation proposed jail sentences and large fines for the distribution of songs, television shows, and movies online.
Newt Gingrich said the bill "strikes me as exactly the wrong thing to do" and joked that he was being forced to choose between "the economic interest of Hollywood" and "virtually everybody who is technologically advanced."
Many popular websites - including Wikipedia and Reddit - went dark Wednesday in protest of the the legislation.
Ron Paul pointed out that he was among the first Republicans to sign up in opposition to the bill.
"I am pleased that the attitude has mellowed up here, because Republicans have been on the wrong side of this," Paul said.
The Texas congressman, acknowledging that the bill's prospects had dimmed in Congress, nevertheless warned the audience to "watch out for the next one."
In the only real area of dissension, Rick Santorum said that while he agreed the proposed bill "goes to far," he did "not agree with everyone up here that there's nothing that can be done."
"The internet is not a free zone where anyone can do anything they want to do and trample on the rights of people," Santorum said. "I'm for free, but I'm not for people abusing the law, and that's what happening now… the deal that anything goes on the internet, where did that come from?"