~ SOPA Update ~

Senators Flee Internet Piracy Bill

Support for two online piracy bills in Congress dropped dramatically on Wednesday after opponents of the legislation staged a dramatic protest in which vast swaths of the Web effectively went dark. More than 4.5 million people signed their names to the Google petition and 300,000 people emailed or called their lawmakers, according to the protest organizers.

In New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas, protesters held rallies to draw attention to the bills. The Library of Congress said late Wednesday that it had been hit with a denial of service attack by “a group opposed to the online piracy legislation.” By evening, a number of lawmakers had done an about-face on the legislation.

The Senate version of the bill lost four of its co-sponsors, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). “It is simply not ready for prime time and both sides must continue working together to find a better path forward,” Hatch said in a statement about the Protect Intellectual Property Act.

Senators John Boozman (R-Ark.), Mark Rubio (R-Fla.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) also released statements Wednesday saying that they had reservations and would not vote for the bill if it came up for a floor vote. In the House, where lawmakers are considering a similar bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that “it’s...clear to many of us that there’s a lack of consensus at this point” on how to proceed with the bill.

The online piracy bills had been aimed at protecting U.S. companies against foreign Websites that illegally post copyrighted material. Companies opposing the legislation had argued that the bills would impose heavy regulatory costs, harm innovation and give the government too much power to shut down Websites accused of copyright violations even if they are later found to be innocent of the charges.

“The entire approach is philosophically wrongheaded,” said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales last Tuesday evening in an interview with The Washington Post before the protest began. In a statement posted to his public Facebook profile, co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the bills “get in the way of Internet development.” Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt encouraged his followers on Twitter to sign Google’s petition against the bills, calling on them to “Defend the web!”

The darkened Web sites represent some of the largest properties on the Internet: Google easily has the widest reach, with 187.1 million unique visitors in December, according to data from ComScore. Wikimedia, which owns Wikipedia and other Wiki sites, and Craigslist also have broad audiences, reaching 83 million and 49.8 million unique visitors, respectively, in the same period. Reddit, which compiles links to funny stories, was visited by 4.8 million users last month. Another participant, Boing Boing, had 1.6 million visits.

Most responsible parties agree that some kind of intellectual property protections are needed in the current "free for all" world of downloads, uploads, YouTube, Wiki and Google. Still, the anarchic values of open structure and little regulation still hold the hearts and minds of most users of the Internet who fear that by regulating anything, the nemesis of overregulation and lost integrity will ensue.