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January 20, 2012

House, Senate leaders pull plug on Internet piracy bills

Nothing happens in Congress at the speed of the Internet, unless the Internet gets mad.

Two days after a widespread Internet protest of congressional efforts to crack down on Internet piracy, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Friday postponed a vote scheduled for next week on the Protect IP Act, the Senate version of the House's Stop Online Piracy Act. The lead sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, withdrew that bill Friday, although many lawmakers still agree that Congress needs to do something to stop offshore websites from illegally hosting copyrighted content.

It was a huge victory for the technology industry and a huge defeat for the powerful entertainment and publishing industries. Lawmakers in both parties abandoned the bills in droves starting Wednesday after thousands of websites including Google, Wikipedia, Craigslist, Reddit and others either went dark for the day or publicly registered their opposition to the bills, and directed web users to lawmakers' homepages.

An alternative bill called OPEN, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., could prove more palatable to the technology sector because it addresses a key sticking point in the other bills, giving enforcement power over foreign websites to the International Trade Commission instead of the Justice Department. Civil liberties groups objected to the idea of the government potentially censoring Internet content, and Internet companies didn't like the idea that they might have to monitor their users or face the threat of legal action if they failed to take down rogue websites.

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