Opponents of legislation targeted at foreign websites that offer pirated content and counterfeit goods appear to be making headway in eroding congressional support for the measures.
As the volume of protests to the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s Protect IP Act grows, some lawmakers in both the House and Senate who had expressed support or even cosponsored the bills have backed off.
In the Senate, they include Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Scott Brown, R-Mass., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Brown and Cardin are up for reelection this year, and Brown in particular is facing a tough battle. In addition, a group of GOP members of the Judiciary Committee--including ranking member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa--voiced concerns with the legislation last week.
“I continue to believe that we can come to a solution that will cut off the revenue sources for foreign websites dedicated to counterfeiting and piracy that steal American jobs, hurt the economy, and harm consumers,” Blunt wrote on his Facebook page in announcing he was withdrawing as a cosponsor. “But the Protect IP Act is flawed as it stands today, and I cannot support it moving forward.”
In the House, Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., withdrew on Friday as a SOPA cosponsor, and a spokesman for Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., said that his boss plans to make a similar move. “He felt that SOPA as drafted is not the solution to IP theft we need right now,” Terry’s spokesman said. The loss of Quayle’s support is significant in that he is vice chairman of the Judiciary Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee.
After initially being outorganized by supporters of the legislation--led by major content groups, such as the Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce--critics have turned to the Internet to help build grassroots opposition. Opponents say that the measures will stifle innovation and free speech. More than 10,000 websites on Wednesday blacked out all or part of their sites in protest of the two bills, according to Fight for the Future, which helped organize the blackout. Wikipedia and Craigslist are among the sites that have gone dark, while Google blacked out its name on its homepage and Amazon posted a message urging opposition to the legislation.
The bill’s backers have blasted the blackouts and criticized opponents for providing misleading information about the bill.
“When the opposition is based on misinformation, I have confidence in the facts and confidence that the facts will ultimately prevail,” House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, told reporters on Wednesday, a day after he announced that his panel would resume its markup of SOPA next month and said he was confident that supporters will prevail in moving the bill out of committee. GOP House leaders, however, have indicated they want to see more consensus before bringing the legislation to the floor.
While Smith and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have agreed to remove from their bills a controversial provision requiring service providers to block U.S. access to foreign infringing websites, critics still have many other concerns. Opponents, including Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who has been blocking Protect IP from moving to the Senate floor since May, said they are still concerned with other sections of the bill, such as those granting content providers with a private right of action and overly broad definitions in the measure.
Wyden told National Journal on Wednesday that he is pushing to try to defeat the vote set for Tuesday on whether to begin debate on Protect IP or to persuade Senate leaders to withdraw the bill from consideration.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “Thanks to the incredible grassroots involvement of literally millions of people, at this point, we’ve made a lot of headway but down in the trenches, we have to show that the motion to proceed … is absolutely crucial to defeat.”
Judiciary Committee Democrats are working on a manager’s amendment to the bill intended to address critic’s concerns. Backers argue that the measure can easily be tweaked to address substantive issues with the bill. But aides said it will be harder to address the volume and momentum of what they consider uninformed attacks on the bill, which make political compromise harder. “It’s hard to put the toothpaste back in tube,” a Democratic leadership aide said.
Erica Chabot, a spokeswoman for Leahy, said that her boss hopes to release a manager’s amendment soon. “We’re working hard with the cosponsors to get it done,” she said. Supporters are aiming to release the manager’s amendment by Friday.
Dan Friedman contributed