Leahy unwilling to throw in towel on PIPA

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), a sponsor of the now derailed Protect IP Act (PIPA), isn’t giving up on the legislation and expressed his desire to return a bill to the floor to protect movies, TV programs, music and other intellectual property from foreign piracy websites this year.

Leahy went to the Senate floor Jan. 23 to express regret that the Senate would not take up the bill this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last week said he was delaying a cloture vote set for Jan. 24 after losing support from Republican cosponsors of the bill.

“I regret that the Senate will not be proceeding this week to debate the legislation, and any proposed amendments. I thank the Majority Leader for seeking to schedule that debate on this serious economic threat. I understand that when the Republican leader recently objected and Republican Senators who had cosponsored and long supported this effort jumped ship, he was faced with a difficult decision,” said Leahy.

A similar bill in the House, the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA), also was dealt a major setback last week when House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) postponed consideration of the legislation as several co-sponsors of the bill withdrew support.

Support for the bills waned in both houses of Congress after several prominent websites, including Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing, participated in a Blackout Day, in which content was made unavailable to visitors in protest of the bills. Google, too, expressed its disapproval by blocking out the familiar Google logo with an obtrusive, black rectangle. These and many other online efforts raised a groundswell of disapproval from the public, with millions signing online petitions objecting to the legislation. Phone lines also reportedly were jammed in Washington, D.C., and at the local offices of Congress members as callers voiced their objections.

The bills contained several provisions targeted by opponents as objectionable. For example the Electronic Frontier Foundation argued in a blog posting that an anti-circumvention provision that would let the government target sites that help users get around the bill’s censorship mechanism was tantamount to an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech.

Proponents of the legislation, such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) were displeased with the online efforts to block the legislation. For instance, a statement posted on line by RIAA chairman and CEO Cary called the blackout day “a dangerous and troubling development” and accused websites that participated of “intentionally skew(ing) the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.”

Christopher Dodd, former U.S. Senator from Connecticut and now CEO of the MPAA focused his comments on Washington politicians during a Fox News interview last week. “Candidly, those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake,” said Dodd. ”Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”

The comments have prompted a petition on the White House website demanding an investigation of Dodd and the MPAA “for bribery.” As of 11 p.m. ET Jan. 23, there were more than 25,000 signatures on the petition.

For his part, Leahy said the legislation has merit. “What the PROTECT IP Act does is provide tools to prevent websites operated overseas that do nothing but traffic in infringing material or counterfeits from continuing to profit from piracy with impunity. The Internet needs to be free, but not a lawless marketplace for stolen commerce and not a haven for criminal activities,” he said.

Despite Leahy’s hope to see the legislation brought back for consideration after a brief delay, it is unclear whether there are enough members of Congress willing to risk igniting another public outcry in an election year.

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.