Sen. Leahy criticizes 'knee-jerk' reaction to PIPA, SOPA protests

Vows he's still committed to anti-piracy legislation

Sen. Patrick Leahy, (D-VT), the lead sponsor of the controversial Protect IP Act (PIPA), today criticized the "knee-jerk' reaction of fellow senators to this week's protests against the bill, and vowed to press forward with it.

In response to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) decision this morning to delay a scheduled Jan. 24 cloture vote on PIPA, Leahy said he remains committed to dealing with the problem of online piracy.

"I understand and respect Majority Leader Reid's decision to seek consent to vitiate cloture on the motion to proceed to the PROTECT IP Act," Leahy said in a statement. "But 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."

A cloture vote is designed to overcome a filibuster of a bill by placing a limit on the amount of time the Senate can consider the measure.

Leahy's comments came after Reid's announcement that he was delaying the vote on account of protests against the bill that on Wednesday included a number of prominent sites censoring their own content.

In his own statement, Reid expressed confidence that a compromise over PIPA's proposals could be achieved. "There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved," he said.

He urged Leahy to work with all interested parties "to forge a balance between protecting Americans' intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the internet."

Leahy said that the delay in dealing with online piracy and theft directly affects American jobs, workers and consumers.

"Somewhere in China today, in Russia today, and in many other countries that do not respect American intellectual property, criminals who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching" the controversy over the bill, he said.

The delayed vote is only the latest indication that the massive protest against PIPA and its House counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), are working.

Both bills are designed to deal with the problem of copyright theft, patent infringement and counterfeiting of U.S. brands by foreign websites. Supporters of the measures have argued that such theft is costing U.S. businesses hundreds of billions of dollars -- and thousands of jobs -- annually.

Critics say the bills are dangerous and would force website owners to act as copyright cops on behalf of U.S. content owners. Many have argued that the proposals, in their current form, would enable content owners to impose a kind of Internet censorship and prior restraint on free speech.

On Wednesday, protestors of PIPA and SOPA held an unprecedented Internet "strike." Thousands of websites, including prominent ones such as Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and WordPress, joined the protest. Over the past few days, millions of people have sent in emails and made phone calls to their local representatives to register their concerns.

The pressure appears to be working. Over the last few days, support for both bills has eroded. In the House, those opposed to SOPA now outnumber those supporting the bills by a margin of close to 2-to-1. According to a tally maintained by ProPublic.org 63 lawmakers now support SOPA, 122 oppose it.

PIPA still enjoys majority support in the Senate, but that support appears to be dwindling as well. Over the past few days, more than a dozen Senators have withdrawn their backing for the bill. According to ProPublica, 37 Senators now support the bill while 22 oppose it and another six are leaning 'No.' The position of the remaining 35 senators remains unknown.

See more on the controversy over SOPA.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed . His e-mail address is jvijayan@computerworld.com.

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