A strange-bedfellows coalition of conservatives, libertarians, and some Democrats appeared to be on the verge of derailing two controversial bills intended to stop content piracy on the Internet, after thousands of websites “went dark” Wednesday to protest the pending legislation.
Several major websites joined in the protests. Anyone logging onto the popular Wikipedia site for information Wednesday was greeted instead with a banner warning: “Imagine a world without free knowledge.” The site shut down its normal information services for 24 hours, while remaining operational for cell phone and mobile platform users. It warned the anti-piracy measures under consideration “could fatally damage the free and open Internet.”
Google joined the protest, plastering a black box over its ever-colorful logo. The site continued to be open for business, but warned users that the legislative proposals in Washington “would censor the Web and impose harmful regulations on American business.”
Hundreds of other sites temporarily went dark in protest. The Electronic Frontier Foundation watchdog group warned the proposals could give the government the power to “shut down sites with accusations of infringement, and without real due process.”
The political fallout was fast and furious, and appeared to defy the traditional ideological battle of Beltway politics. Conservative GOP Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a former co-sponsor of the legislation, announced Wednesday that he is withdrawing his support for the Senate version of the bill, titled the Protect IP Act (PIPA).
Rubio said in a Facebook post that while American ingenuity must be protected from intellectual piracy, “we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies.” He added that Congress should listen to the rising hue and cry against the proposed restrictions “and avoid rushing through a bill that could have many unintended consequences.”
In taking a stand against the anti-piracy proposals, Rubio suddenly finds himself in the unlikely company of President Barack Obama, and firebrand film-maker Michael Moore, who also oppose PIPA and its sister bill in the House, called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).
The legislation at the center of the controversy originally required Internet service providers to block access to foreign-based websites that infringe on copyrights.
A critical Senate test vote on PIPA, which is supported by the motion picture and recording industries, is scheduled for Tuesday. But as congressional phone lines heat up with calls from constituents opposing the restrictions, it is no longer clear if there is enough support to bring the Senate version to the floor for a vote.
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers agree that piracy of online content emanating from countries such as China is a major problem. Wikipedia and other major sites say the proposed legislative cure would be worse than the disease, however, as it could open the door to massive regulation of Internet content.
The issue appears to be cutting across party lines, and the political fallout from the measure just days before the critical GOP South Carolina primary remains unclear.
“This is not a political issue with the ordinary ideological cast,” Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Douglas Schoen tells Newsmax. “It is more about young vs. old, and new media vs. old media. As a cross-cutting issue, it is much more about property and access to content, than politics.”
So far, the political seas surrounding the proposals appear confused. Among the notable expressions of support and opposition:
• South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint is opposed, calling them “misguided bills that will cause more harm than good.” House Republicans Ben Quayle of Arizona and Lee Terry of Arizona reversed their earlier sponsorship of the House version.
• House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is leading the opposition in the House.
• Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, remains staunchly in favor of it, and has voiced criticism of Wikipedia for blocking access to its own site.
• Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has denied a request from six GOP senators to delay next week’s scheduled vote on PIPA. But Democratic sources told The Hill that Reid intends to press ahead.
• Judiciary Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who sponsored the Senate version, continues to stand behind it. He released a statement saying: “Protecting foreign criminals from liability rather than protecting American copyright holders and intellectual property developers is irresponsible, will cost American jobs, and is just wrong.”
• The White House has called for legislators to remove a provision that would let Internet service providers block access to sites dealing in pirated materials.
• Former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, a Democrat, called the blackout by Wikipedia and scores of other sites “the height of irresponsibility.” He compared their behavior to that of a child throwing a temper tantrum.
• Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., backed off of his previous support for the bill on Wednesday.
• Two Democratic representatives from California, Anna Eshoo and Zoe Lofgren, blacked out their websites in sympathy with the growing protest movement.
The bills’ sponsors have agreed to remove the controversial domain-name block provision from the bill. But the protesters warn the measure could still establish a precedent for Internet censorship.
© 2014 Newsmax. All rights reserved.