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After protest, Congress puts off movie piracy bill

By Jim Abrams

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 2:02 p.m. MST

The White House, while not taking a specific stand on the bills, last week said it would "not support any legislation that reduces freedom of expression ... or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet." On Friday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said online piracy is an issue that has to be addressed, "but everybody has to be in on it for it to work and get through Congress."

The scuttling, for now, of PIPA and SOPA frustrates what might have been one of the few opportunities to move significant legislation in an election year where the two parties have little motivation to cooperate.

Until recently "you would have thought this bill was teed up," with backing from key Senate leaders and support from powerful interest groups, said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who cosponsored the original bill but quickly dropped his backing on the grounds the bill could undermine innovation and Internet freedom.

Moran said the "uprising" of so many people with similar concerns was a "major turnaround, and in my experience it is something that has happened very rarely."

Moran said PIPA and SOPA now have "such a black eye" that it will be difficult to amend them. Reid, however, said that there had been progress in recent talks among the various stakeholders and "there is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved."

Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, a consumer protection and privacy advocacy group, said Google and Facebook and their supporters "have delivered a powerful blow to the Hollywood lobby." He predicted a compromise that doesn't include what many see as overreaching provisions in the current legislation.

"It's been framed as an Internet freedom issue, but at the end of the day it will be decided on the narrow interests of the old and new media companies," he said. The big questions involve who should or shouldn't pay — or be paid — for Internet content.

Leahy said he respected Reid's decision to postpone the vote but lamented the Senate's unwillingness to debate his bill.

"The day will come when the senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem," Leahy said. Criminals in China, Russia and other countries "who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching how the United States Senate decided" it was not worth taking up the bill, he said.

In the House, Smith said he had "heard from the critics" and resolved that it was "clear that we need to revisit the approach on how best to address the problem of foreign thieves that steal and sell American inventions and products." Smith had planned on holding further committee votes on his bill next month.

The bill's opponents were relieved it was put on hold.

Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition, commended Congress for "recognizing the serious collateral damage this bill could inflict on the Internet."

The group represents Internet and technology companies including Google, Yahoo and Amazon.com. Erickson said they would work with Congress "to address the problem of piracy without compromising innovation and free expression."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who has joined Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Moran in proposing an alternative anti-piracy bill, credited opponents with forcing lawmakers "to back away from an effort to ram through controversial legislation."

But the CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, former Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, warned, "As a consequence of failing to act, there will continue to be a safe haven for foreign thieves." The MPAA, which represents such companies as Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., is a leading advocate for the anti-piracy legislation.

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