The people have spoken: Congress postpones anti-piracy legislation

On Wednesday a public outcry over proposed anti-piracy legislation that would have protected content but possibly led to suspect websites being shutdown caused sites like Wikipedia to go dark for 24 hours. By the very next Friday, lawmakers—led by Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid—indefinitely postponed a key vote on that legislation.

In fact, a number of senators who had co-sponsored the legislation dropped their support after Wednesday's protests.

Senator Reid postponed the vote in his chamber on the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA), which had been scheduled for January 24. The debate pits Hollywood against Silicon Valley, and loms large over how and when content can be used onine by overseas portals.

Lamar Smith, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, also delayed action on similar legislation called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) until there is wider agreement on the legislation.

"I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy," Smith told Reuters.

In a prepared statement, Smith added, “It is 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.”

The goal of the legislation is to stop overseas websites that traffic in pirated content and counterfeit products, such as movies and music. But support for the legislation has eroded in recent days because of fears that legitimate websites could end up in legal jeopardy.

The entertainment industry wants legislation to protect its movies and music from counterfeiters, but technology companies are concerned the laws would undermine Internet freedoms, be difficult to enforce and encourage frivolous lawsuits.

In a brief statement, Reid said there was no reason why concerns about the legislation cannot be resolved. He offered no new date for the vote, althougbits widely acknolwedged that the measure lacked the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle in the 100-member Senate.

Reid said he hopes that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who has been shepherding the bill through Congress, could help resolve differences in the legislation.

“I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks,” Reid said.

Leahy said he hoped other members of Congress would work with him to get a bill signed into law this year.

“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,” he said. “Criminals who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching how the United States Senate decided it was not even worth debating how to stop the overseas criminals from draining our economy.”