Update: U.S. Senate postpones vote on PIPA

Senators are distancing themselves from copyright enforcement bill in the wake of massive protests

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has postponed a vote on the controversial Protect IP Act, scheduled for Tuesday, as a growing number of senators voice opposition to the copyright enforcement bill.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, had scheduled a cloture vote in an effort to cut off debate and override a filibuster of the bill. But more than 25 senators have raised objections to the legislation this week, following massive online protests over PIPA and the Stop Online Piracy Act, a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

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"There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved," Reid said in a statement. "Counterfeiting and piracy cost the American economy billions of dollars and thousands of jobs each year. We must take action to stop these illegal practices."

Also on Friday, Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and lead sponsor of SOPA, said he will entertain changes to his bill.

"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."

Reid's decision came as senators have flocked away from the bill. Opencongress.org, a congressional watchdog site, counted 45 senators either opposed or leaning against PIPA as of Friday morning, and only 32 supporting the legislation. PIPA supporters would need 60 votes to cut off debate and move forward with the bill.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and lead sponsor of PIPA, said he will continue to work on ways to attack foreign websites engaged in the piracy and counterfeiting of U.S. products.

"The day will come when the senators who forced this move will look back and realize they made a knee-jerk reaction to a monumental problem," Leahy said in a statement. "Somewhere in China today, in Russia today, and in many other countries that do not respect American intellectual property, criminals who do nothing but peddle in counterfeit products and stolen American content are smugly watching how the United States Senate decided it was not even worth debating how to stop the overseas criminals from draining our economy."

Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, called on the Senate to scrap PIPA and "start from scratch" on a copyright enforcement bill.

"This is a wake-up call for Congress to abandon business as usual," Harold Feld, the group's legal director said in an email. "Simply tinkering with the details of this bill, or of its House companion, is not the way to go.

SOPA and PIPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring U.S. online advertising networks and payment processors to stop doing business with foreign websites accused of infringing U.S. copyright. The DOJ could also seek court orders requiring search engines, and possible other sites, to stop linking to the accused websites.The bills would apply to foreign sites trafficking in pirated music and movies, but also to sites selling counterfeit goods, including handbags, cigarettes, medicine, and clothing.The bills would also allow U.S. copyright holders to seek court orders targeting ad networks and payment processors.

Critics have said the bills would allow copyright holders to flood U.S. Web companies with lawsuits and would allow the DOJ and copyright holders to filter the Internet.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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