Congress Backs Off Anti-Web-Piracy Bill

Congress was poised to pass a bill restricting Internet transfer of copyrighted material but now seems to be backing off.

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DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: I'm David Welna at the Capitol. Many websites taking part in the online blackouts today are urging frustrated visitors to complain to their lawmakers about the proposed anti-piracy legislation, and they've had a big response. Heavy traffic caused more than half the official websites of senators to crash today. And in their Capitol Hill offices, irate callers kept the phone lines swamped.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Senator, are you (unintelligible)? (Unintelligible) how are you sir?

WELNA: Nearly all of the hundreds of calls to Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's Senate office today were against the anti-piracy bill he's sponsoring, known as the Protect IP Act, or PIPA. Leahy, who was back in his home state of Vermont, was not available for comment. Oregon's Ron Wyden is also a Senate Democrat, but he opposes the PIPA bill. He says lawmakers, who earlier were lobbied heavily by the entertainment industry to support the legislation, today heard from the other side, the users of the Internet.

SENATOR RON WYDEN: People think it's just folks between 18 and 35, but senators are hearing from small business people, from senior citizens, from farmers.

WELNA: And some lawmakers themselves joined the fray today. Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio railed on the House floor against that chamber's version of the anti-piracy legislation, known as SOPA.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER DEFAZIO: This legislation could threaten the existence of an entire domain because of one, one blog entry, one user link. The whole domain would be taken down. Wow. That's pretty incredible.

WELNA: The House bill is still stuck in the Judiciary Committee in a move apparently aimed at shoring up support. That panel's Republican chairman, Lamar Smith, announced last week that he was removing an especially controversial provision that could block domain names. But in an interview today, Smith insisted he still plans to move forward on his bill next month.

REPRESENTATIVE LAMAR SMITH: There's a lot of spreading of fear rather than facts. And there's a lot of willing engagement to misrepresent the bill. If people would look at the language, I'm convinced that we have a good product, and we will keep support for it.

WELNA: But House Republican leaders seemed to be putting the brakes on their chamber's bill. Here's House Speaker John Boehner earlier today.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: It's pretty clear to many of us that there's a lack of consensus at this point, and I would expect that the committee would continue to work to try to build a consensus before this bill moves.

WELNA: In the Senate, it's a different story. Majority leader Harry Reid intends to go ahead with plans to hold a key test vote on the PIPA anti-piracy bill next Tuesday. Bill opponent Wyden says that's following a script that aims to get the legislation passed this year.

WYDEN: The strategy has always been to bull PIPA through the United States Senate. If you could get it through the Senate, you'd be in a good position to have a conference at some point between the House and the Senate, and that's why it's so important to stop this effort dead in its tracks.

WELNA: And that just might happen. Nearly half the Senate bill's 40 sponsors are Republicans, but many of them have withdrawn their support in the past few days. If this controversial legislation is to get past Tuesday's vote, it may first have to be altered to allay some of the many concerns lawmakers heard a lot about today. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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