Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., appears intent on moving ahead with legislation that would provide new tools for curbing piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites despite growing opposition that will culminate on Wednesday in an online protest by thousands of websites.
Reid announced last month that he intended to bring an intellectual-property bill known as the Protect IP Act to the Senate floor on Jan. 24 for a vote on whether to allow debate to begin on the legislation. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has been blocking the bill from moving to the floor since it was approved in May by the Judiciary Committee.
In recent days, Reid has said he will go forward with next week’s vote, but he urged Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to craft a manager’s amendment to try to address critics’ concerns with the measure. Leahy has already pledged to drop one of the most controversial provisions, which would require Internet service providers and others to block U.S. users from accessing foreign websites that offer pirated music, movies, and other content as well as counterfeit drugs and other goods. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, who has crafted a similar bill known as the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, followed a day later with a similar promise to remove the website-blocking provisions.
“The Protect IP Act, as reported out of the Judiciary Committee, is not perfect,” Reid wrote GOP senators on Friday. “Senator Leahy publicly committed to significantly amending the bill, and I urge him and Senator [Chuck] Grassley to continue making improvements before the full Senate considers it.”
Iowa’s Grassley, the top Republican on Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Reid last week to urge him to slow down the process so that concerns about Leahy’s bill can be addressed before it reaches the floor.
Critics argue that the Web-blocking provisions in Protect IP Act and SOPA could stifle the integrity and security of the Internet. But they also express concern about other provisions, including language giving the holders of copyrights and trademarks authority to bring lawsuits against third parties who provide services to infringing websites, and another provision giving Internet service providers and others protection against liability if they take action against foreign infringers.
Meanwhile, many websites—including Wikipedia and the social news site Reddit—will be staging a high-profile protest of the bills on Wednesday by going dark for a day.
This article appears in the Jan. 18, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.