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Lawmakers Jump Ship on Piracy Bills

18 Jan, 2012 By: Chris Tribbey

Several members of Congress withdrew their names from controversial antipiracy bills Jan. 18, while the head of digital for News Corp. said that the bills were losing the battle over public perception.

Speaking at a panel discussion concerning digital lockers, Jon Miller, chief digital officer for News Corp., brought up the piracy bills, saying consumers know piracy is wrong, but the debate over the bills before Congress has shifted away against the case content owners have made in support of the legislation.

“The content side has the better argument, but it’s losing the [public relations] battle,” he said.

His remark came the same day Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, removed his support from the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or Protect IP, which is scheduled for a Senate vote Jan. 24.

“We’ve heard legitimate concerns about the impact the bill could have on access to the Internet and about a potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government’s power to impact the Internet,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Congress should listen and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences.”

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Roy Blunt, R-Miss. also withdrew their support, with Blunt writing, “Upon passage of this bill through committee, Senate Judiciary Republicans strongly stated that there were substantive issues in this legislation that had to be addressed before it moved forward. I agree with that sentiment.”

Both Protect IP and the House piracy bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, would target foreign websites dealing in illegal goods by keeping search engines from showing them in results and restricting interaction with American payment companies. They also would give the attorney general the power to seek injunctions against foreign websites dealing in illegal content and goods.

The entertainment industry has come out in support of both, while the consumer electronics industry and major Internet companies have opposed the bills, saying they may restrict freedom on the Internet and accidently shut down legal websites.

Reps. Terry Lee, R-Neb., and Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., both reportedly withdrew their support from SOPA, saying it won’t work in its current form. That bill still is in committee, with potential changes expected in February.

Also Jan. 18 several major websites, including Wikipedia and Reddit, went dark to protest the bills.

“For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history,” a note on Wikipedia’s homepage reads. “Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia.”

Google was not one of the websites to go dark, but the search giant put a giant black bar over its homepage logo, and linked to an info graphic detailing the mounting opposition to the proposed piracy bills.

“Experts agree that there are better ways to shut down pirate websites than asking U.S. companies to censor the Web,” the graphic reads. “Join the groundswell of experts, organizations and people from all parts of America united in their opposition to SOPA and PIPA. Tell Congress not to censor the Web and not to cripple our innovation economy.”

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