It’s black Friday for the controversial anti-piracy bills, as Congressional leaders in both the House and Senate announced they are officially on hold following a veritable deluge of protests from online companies and activists this week.
It began with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announcing a delay of the Senate vote on Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Soon after, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) declared that he would postpone consideration the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
“I have heard from the critics and I take seriously their concerns regarding proposed legislation to address the problem of online piracy,” Smith said in a statement. “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.”
Shortly thereafter, Chris Dodd, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, a staunch proponent of the anti-internet piracy legislation, conceded that it was time for both sides of the issue — e.g. Hollywood and Silicon Valley — to meet to iron out their differences.
“With today’s announcement, we hope the dynamics of the conversation can change and become a sincere discussion about how best to protect the millions of American jobs affected by the theft of American intellectual property,” Dodd said in a statement.
Speaking to the New York Times, Dodd likened the deluge of protests against PIPA and SOPA, to the “Arab Spring.”
“This is altogether a new effect,” Dodd said, adding that he’d never witnessed such a tsunami effect to turn the tide of Congressional opinion on a bill.
Dodd suggested that the White House might serve as the best forum to bring the two sides together.
The events unfolded culminated Friday after a week of protest.
Websites including Wikipedia went dark Wednesday to protest the pending legislation, and a small band of Occupy-ers protested in front of the offices of New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillebrand.
The surge in public opposition to PIPA and SOPA also produced several swift changes in positions. Senators including Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jon Cornyn (R-Tex.), withdrew their support for the legislation before Reid decided to delay a vote.
Supporters of the legislation, including movie studios and media conglomerates, say the bills would target offenders who illegally post others' films, music, and other intellectual property, costing the industry billions of dollars. But opponents say the bills would go too far by imprisoning violators and shutting down entire websites based on minor transgressions.
Reid alluded to the protests in a statement Friday. He said he would delay a vote that had been scheduled for next Tuesday, and wanted the bill's backers to work out compromises with its critics to improve it.
"In light of recent events, I have decided to postpone Tuesday’s vote on the PROTECT I.P. Act," he said. "There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved."
He added: "Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year, with the movie industry alone supporting over 2.2 million jobs. We must take action to stop these illegal practices. We live in a country where people rightfully expect to be fairly compensated for a day’s work, whether that person is a miner in the high desert of Nevada, an independent band in New York City, or a union worker on the back lots of a California movie studio."
He asked Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to make changes.
“I admire the work that Chairman Leahy has put into this bill. I encourage him to continue engaging with all stakeholders to forge a balance between protecting Americans’ intellectual property, and maintaining openness and innovation on the internet," Reid said. "We made good progress through the discussions we’ve held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks."
SOPA and PIPA have done what might have been impossible before the days of social networking: Sparked a nationwide debate about piracy, intellectual property, and fair use. The bills sparked more than 2.4 million tweets on Wednesday, and the discussion shows no signs of slowing down.
Friday's news marks at least a temporary victory for those who complained that PIPA goes too far, since Congress will likely have to limit the scope or both bills, or weaken their penalties, to increase their chances of surviving intense public scrutiny.