GOP lawmakers seek to postpone PIPA vote

Controversial Protect IP Act legislation needs more debate, former supporters say in letter to majority leader Harry Reid

In a sign that massive public pressure may be working, six Republican U.S. Senators who previously supported the Protect IP Act, late Friday asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) to postpone a scheduled Jan. 24 vote on the controversial bill.

In a letter sent to Reid on Friday, the six lawmakers said that the bill needs to be more thoroughly debated on the Senate floor before it can be voted on.

"We have increasingly heard from a large number of constituents and other stakeholders with vocal concerns about possible unintended consequences of the proposed legislation, including breaches in cybersecurity, damaging the integrity of the Internet, costly and burdensome litigation, and dilution of First Amendment rights," Senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), John Cornyn (R-Texas) Mike Lee (R-Utah), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said in the letter.

The proposed Protect IP Act (PIPA) is the Senate's version of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that is currently working its way through the U.S. House of Representatives.

Both bills aim to provide U.S. copyright holders and IP owners with more tools to go after foreign websites that sell counterfeit U.S goods, fake prescription drugs and copyrighted movies, music and other content.

Supporters of the legislation argue that such sites cause tens of billions of dollars in losses annually to U.S. companies.

Opponents of SOPA and PIPA, including some of the largest Internet companies, have argued that passage of the bills would result Internet censorship by giving copyright owners too much power to go after sites that are deemed as infringing.

A provision requiring U.S. ISPs and search engines to block access to infringing foreign sites using DNS filtering and blocking has evoked widespread security concerns that have reached fever pitch in recent days.

In the letter, the six lawmakers acknowledged the concerns and said that a more thorough analysis of PIPA needs is needed. The letter said that concerns raised about the legislation need to be considered in a "informed, deliberative and responsible manner" and that amendments to the bill not be limited.

"We strongly believe that the theft of American intellectual property is a significant problem that must be addressed to protect property rights," the lawmakers said. "However, for both substantive and procedural reasons, the process at this point is moving too quickly and this step [the scheduled Jan. 24 vote] may be premature."

The dramatic withdrawal of support for the bill, at least for the moment, is likely to be a huge blow for those who were hoping for a quick Senate passage and comes just one day after the chief sponsor of the bill, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), called for a thorough reevaluation of the bill's DNS filtering and blocking provision.

There are signs that the widespread opposition to SOPA is having a similar affect on the U.S. House members.

SOPA has already been amended once and no longer includes a provision that would allow content owners to force payment processors and online advertising networks to cut off services to sites deemed as infringing American copyright and IP. Today,

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the chief sponsor of SOPA, said he would withdraw the ISP blocking provision in SOPA, though many other controversial provisions remain in place.

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.

See more on the controversy over SOPA.

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