Senator Throws A Roadblock In Front Of Anti-Piracy Bill

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) made a move today that’s likely to make him a hero in the blogosphere—but a target for the entertainment industry. Wyden has put a “hold” on a controversial anti-piracy bill. While he supports the bill’s basic goals, Wyden said today he’s “not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth” in the name of fighting online piracy.

The bill in question would allow the government—or even private parties in some situations—to quickly disable web domains believed to be involved in breaking copyright or trademark laws. Content industries have backed the measure as a necessary weapon in fighting the increase in online piracy, while critics have said it goes too far and doesn’t provide for proper due process for the owners of targeted websites. The bill would also allow the government to order ad networks and payment processors to stop doing business with “blacklisted” websites, and perhaps most strikingly would order search engines to remove the sites from their results.

Although Wyden has been outspoken in his opposition, the bill appears to have widespread support in Congress, and was passed unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The entertainment industry is the biggest supporter of this measure, but it’s also been praised by software industry trade groups and by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Wyden’s “hold” will prevent the bill from moving to the Senate floor and being voted on. A Senatorial hold can be removed, but like a filibuster, it can only happen with a 60-vote majority.

Wyden was also was a central figure in blocking the COICA bill introduced in the last Congress, and has expressed concern about the website seizures that began last year under the auspices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a concern shared by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). This move is likely to make content industry lobbyists sit up and take notice of Wyden—and not in a good way—if they haven’t already.

The full text of Wyden’s statement follows:

“Consistent with Senate Standing Orders and my policy of publishing in the Congressional Record a statement whenever I place a hold on legislation, I am announcing my intention to object to any unanimous consent request to proceed to S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act.

“In December of last year I placed a hold on similar legislation, commonly called COICA, because I felt the costs of the legislation far outweighed the benefits. After careful analysis of the Protect IP Act, or PIPA, I am compelled to draw the same conclusion.  I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective.  At the expense of legitimate commerce, PIPA’s prescription takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet when a more balanced and targeted approach would be more effective. The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.

“The Internet represents the shipping lane of the 21st century.  It is increasingly in America’s economic interest to ensure that the Internet is a viable means for American innovation, commerce, and the advancement of our ideals that empower people all around the world. By ceding control of the Internet to corporations through a private right of action, and to government agencies that do not sufficiently understand and value the Internet, PIPA represents a threat to our economic future and to our international objectives.  Until the many issues that I and others have raised with this legislation are addressed, I will object to a unanimous consent request to proceed to the legislation.”

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