PIPA sponsor slams Net blackouts

Senator Patrick Leahy, sponsor of the contentious PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) anti-online piracy legislation, has hit back against websites that have shut down in opposition to his measure.

“Much of what has been claimed about the Senate’s PROTECT IP Act is flatly wrong and seems intended more to stoke fear and concern than to shed light or foster workable solutions. The PROTECT IP Act will not affect Wikipedia, will not affect Reddit, and will not affect any website that has any legitimate use,” Leahy said in a statement.

“Perhaps if these companies would participate constructively, they could point to what in the actual legislation they contend threatens their websites, and then we could dispel their misunderstandings. That is what debate on legislation is intended to do, to fine-tune the bill to confront the problem of stealing while protecting against unintended consequences,” he advised.

Wikipedia and discussion board Reddit shut down for 24 hours on Wednesday 18th January and displayed only a message criticising the piracy legislation. Google also posted a banner opposing the bill, but didn’t block access to its search engine.

“Hiding behind the black box of self-censorship does not resolve the problem that is plaguing American business and hurting American consumers,” argued Leahy. “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,” he stated.

The Protect IP Act and its House counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), seek to target foreign websites that offer illegal copies of music, movies and TV shows with impunity. The legislation would empower the Justice Department and copyright holders to demand that search engines delete links to sites “dedicated” to copyright infringement. Ad networks and payment processors would be prohibited from doing business with the sites.

Movie studios, record labels and business groups back such measures, arguing that such legislation is necessary to curb online copyright infringement. Consumer groups and Web companies claim the bills would stifle innovation and censor free speech, as well as imposing an unreasonable burden on websites to police user-generated content, which could lead to legitimate websites getting shut down.

The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation next week. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith intends to move the bill through his committee next month.

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