Five key senators abandon online piracy bills amid Web protests

Five key senators abandon online piracy bills amid Web protests

Congressional support for controversial online piracy legislation eroded dramatically on Wednesday in the face of an unprecedented online protest supported by tech titans such as Google, Wikipedia and Facebook. 

Several key senators withdrew their support from the Senate's Protect IP Act (PIPA), including Tea Party favorite Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio Rubio The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation GOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick joins CBS News as contributor MORE (R-Fla.) and Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Exclusive: Kushner tells GOP it needs to unify behind immigration plan The Hill's Morning Report - Can Trump save GOP in North Carolina special election? MORE (R-Mo.), an elected member of his party's leadership. 

Sen. John CornynJohn Cornyn The 13 Republicans needed to pass gun-control legislation The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure MORE (R-Texas), who leads the Senate GOP's campaign team, said the legislation should be put on hold, while Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchTrump to award racing legend Roger Penske with Presidential Medal of Freedom Trump awards Presidential Medal of Freedom to economist, former Reagan adviser Arthur Laffer Second ex-Senate staffer charged in aiding doxxing of GOP senators MORE (R-Utah), a sponsor and the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, retreated from the bill. Sen. John BoozmanJohn Nichols BoozmanVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides McConnell ups pressure on White House to get a budget deal There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen MORE (R-Ark.) also withdrew his sponsorship.


Thousands of websites went dark on Wednesday to protest the two Internet piracy bills, the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's PIPA. At least two California Democrats, Reps. Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, joined the protests by blacking out their websites.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a leader of Senate conservatives, also came out against the bills, calling them "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.

Opposition is also building in the House. Two of the original Republican co-sponsors of SOPA, Reps. Ben Quayle (Ariz.) and Lee Terry (Neb.), withdrew their support Tuesday before the protests began, and scores of other lawmakers took to Twitter Wednesday to affirm their opposition.

The coordinated online protests are aimed at bringing down legislation that 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.

More from The Hill:
Anti-piracy bills pose tough choice for vulnerable incumbents
Movie association says Web blackout ‘fails to enlist big sites’
Silicon Valley Dems join protest, black out congressional sites
Opinion: Anti-piracy battle reveals dysfunctional thinking
Opinion: Congress wants to censor you
Opinion: Wiki what?

Where the protests left the legislation, which is supported by the Motion Picture Association of America and recording industry, among other groups, is unclear. The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote on the legislation next week, but it is uncertain whether the 60 votes to move forward can be found. The fight over the bills has broken across party lines, with House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) leading opposition in the House against Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Hundreds of millions of Internet users, most of whom might have been unaware of the bills until Wednesday, are likely to have noticed the protests. 

Google, the most visited site in the world, plastered a black box evoking censorship over its logo and claimed the bills would "censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American businesses." Users who click on the black box are re-directed to a petition urging Congress to drop the piracy legislation on a page.

Wikipedia — the world's sixth most popular site, according to the Web firm Alexa — went a step further, shutting down its English-language site entirely. Visitors to Wikipedia are greeted with a minimalistic, dark page with the headline: "Imagine a world without free knowledge." 

After announcing he was withdrawing his support, Rubio said Congress should take its time in crafting new legislation that addresses the concerns raised by both the technology and content industries. 

“I have been a co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP Act because I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China,” Rubio said in a post on Facebook. “As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.

“However,” he continued, “we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies.”

Six other GOP senators wrote to Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info Poll: 47 percent back limits on Senate filibuster MORE (D-Nev.) last week asking him delay a vote on PIPA scheduled for next week, but a senior Democratic aide told The Hill Reid plans to press ahead with the vote after requesting some changes to the Domain Name Service provision from sponsor and Judiciary Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Overnight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine On The Money: Trump delays increase in China tariffs until Oct. 15 | Treasury says US deficit topped trillion in 11 months | Defense spending bill advances over Democratic wall objections MORE (D-Vt.).

Google and Wikipedia weren’t the only big-name sites slamming the bills. The popular discussion board reddit went dark at 8:00 a.m., posting a message that read: "SOPA and PIPA damage the Internet. Today we fight back.” 

Reddit encouraged users to "take today as a day of focus and action to learn about these destructive bills and do what you can to prevent them from becoming reality."

Wired, a technology magazine, also joined in, blacking out the headlines on its website. 

Facebook 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."

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

The protests seemed to piquing the interest of Web users Wednesday. By mid-morning, “SOPA” and “SOPA blackout” were among the top 10 trending search terms on Google.

The bills' sponsors dismissed the protests Tuesday.

Smith, who authored SOPA, called Wikipedia's protest a "publicity stunt" that promotes "fear instead of facts."

"Perhaps during the blackout, Internet users can look elsewhere for an accurate definition of online piracy," he said.

Leahy, the chief author of the Senate bill, said the protest is based on a misunderstanding of the legislation.

"The PROTECT IP Act will not affect Wikipedia, will not affect reddit, and will not affect any website that has any legitimate use," he said.

"Perhaps if these companies would participate constructively, they could point to what in the actual legislation they contend threatens their websites, and then we could dispel their misunderstandings. That is what debate on legislation is intended to do, to fine-tune the bill to confront the problem of stealing while protecting against unintended consequences."

Movie studios, record labels and business groups say piracy legislation is needed to stop the illegal downloading of movies, music and other copyrighted content, and argue that legislative action is long overdue. 

But consumer groups and 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.

The Motion Picture Association of America called the protests an "abuse of power" aimed at turning Web users into “corporate pawns.”

“A so-called ‘blackout’ is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals,” MPAA Chairman and former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this ‘blackout’ to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

The Senate is set to vote on the legislation on Tuesday. Smith has said he will push ahead with the House's version in the Judiciary Committee next month.

—This story was first posted at 7:35 a.m. and was last updated at 2:56 p.m.