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.

ADVERTISEMENT

GOP Sens. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntEx-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity GOP group targets McConnell over election security bills in new ad Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown MORE (Mo.), 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 (Utah), 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 (Ark.) and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioTrump moves forward with F-16 sale to Taiwan opposed by China The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Trump crosses new line with Omar, Tlaib, Israel move MORE (Fla.) dropped their support for the Senate version of the anti-piracy legislation, and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy O'Rourke says he will not 'in any scenario' run for Senate 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 GrassleyGOP senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation Trump health official: Controversial drug pricing move is 'top priority' Environmental advocates should take another look at biofuels 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 KirkAdvocates push for EpiPens on flights after college student's mid-flight allergic reaction Funding the fight against polio Ex-GOP Sen. Kirk registers to lobby 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 BoehnerLobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom Rising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief This little engine delivers results for DC children 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 BoehnerLobbyists race to cash in on cannabis boom Rising star Ratcliffe faces battle to become Trump's intel chief This little engine delivers results for DC children 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 WydenWyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations Wyden calls for end to political ad targeting on Facebook, Google Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity 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 CantorEmbattled Juul seeks allies in Washington GOP faces tough battle to become 'party of health care' 737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington 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.