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U.S. Lawmakers Abandon Anti-Piracy Bills as Google Protests

Eight U.S. lawmakers dropped their support for Hollywood-backed anti-piracy legislation as Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and other websites protested the measures.

Co-sponsors who say they can no longer support the Senate legislation include Republicans Marco Rubio of Florida, Roy Blunt of Missouri and Orrin Hatch of Utah, as well as Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland. Republican Representatives Ben Quayle of Arizona, Lee Terry of Nebraska and Dennis Ross of Florida, and Democratic Representative Tim Holden of Pennsylvania said they would withdraw their backing of the House measure.

The House and Senate bills are backed by the movie and music industries as a means to crack down on the sale of counterfeit goods by non-U.S. websites. Google and Facebook are among Internet companies that object to the legislation, saying it will spur online censorship and slow U.S. economic growth.

“This unprecedented effort has turned the tide,” Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican who opposes the measures, said in an e-mailed statement.

Google, owner of the world’s most popular search engine, covered the “Google” icon on its home page today with a black box and linked to a website that urged visitors to sign an online petition asking Congress to reject the legislation.

Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia run by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation Inc., shut the English version of its website for 24 hours to protest the bills. The home page of the English website gives visitors information about how to call their elected representatives.

Zuckerberg’s Argument

Google and Facebook, the most popular social-networking service with more than 800 million users worldwide, have led Web-industry opposition to the anti-piracy bills, saying the measures may saddle Web companies with new mandates and liabilities and hamper innovation.

“The Internet is the most powerful tool we have for creating a more open and connected world,” Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on the social network today. “We can’t let poorly thought out laws get in the way of the Internet’s development.”

Zuckerberg’s post links to a Facebook page that outlines the company’s opposition to the bills and provides a link for people to contact members of Congress.

Craigslist Inc., operator of the online classified ad website, steered users to a page with a black background and a message in white letters asking visitors to “imagine a world without craigslist, Google, Wikipedia.” The website provided visitors with a link to a page offering ways to contact lawmakers and voice opposition to the legislation.

Legislators’ Reversals

Rubio said he switched his position on the Senate measure, the Protect IP Act, after examining opponents’ contention that it would present a “potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government’s power to impact the Internet,” according to a posting today on Facebook. Blunt said in a statement today he is withdrawing as a co-sponsor of the Senate bill.

Hatch, one of the Senate bill’s original co-sponsors, and Ross said they would withdraw support for the legislation in separate Twitter posts today. Staff members for Quayle, Terry and Holden said the lawmakers would no longer back the House measure. Cardin said he couldn’t vote for the Senate bill in its current form, according to a statement Jan. 13.

Hollywood studios want lawmakers to ensure that Internet companies such as Google share responsibility for curbing the distribution of pirated films and television shows.

‘Another Gimmick’

Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America and a former Democratic senator, said in an e-mailed statement yesterday that the Internet protest is “yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals.”

The House and Senate measures would let the Justice Department seek court orders requiring search engines, payment processors and ad networks to block or cease business with the piracy websites operating outside the U.S.

Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act, said last week he would remove a provision from his bill requiring Internet-service providers, when ordered by a court, to block access to non-U.S. websites linked to piracy.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said he’s willing to consider dropping a similar provision from the Protect IP Act. Opponents say such website-blocking may harm the stability of the Internet’s domain-name system.

Promoting ‘Rogue Websites’

Smith has said that companies “like Google have made billions by working with and promoting foreign rogue websites so they have a vested interest in preventing Congress from stopping rogue websites.”

Google agreed last year to pay $500 million to settle U.S. allegations that advertising for online Canadian pharmacies on its website allowed illegal imports of prescription drugs. The company has said it has also fought counterfeiters and piracy operations.

The Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote on whether to proceed with the Protect IP Act on Jan. 24. Leahy leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Smith is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Senate bill is S. 968 and the House bill is H.R. 3261.

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