In Wake of Internet Storm, Lawmakers Pull Support for Anti-Piracy Bills

60,000 websites take part in protest

A number of lawmakers that formerly supported SOPA and PIPA pulled their support from the two bills Wednesday as tens of thousands of Internet websites staged the biggest protest in the Web's history.

By late afternoon, PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act) supporters dropped from 40 to 34. Senators heading for the exit door began early in the day with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rising star in the GOP, followed by Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) lost three of its 31 supporters: Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Ben Quayle (R-Ariz.) and Dennis Ross (R-Fla.).

The Internet protest was unprecedented. According to a spokeswoman for Fight for the Future, one of the organizers of the protest, as many as 60,000 websites joined the protest by either blacking out sites or posting messages, warning the legislation contained provisions that could damage the Internet and threaten free speech.

Consumers responded by jumping on the Internet to send messages to their U.S. representatives, causing some congressional websites to temporarily shut down.

Other lawmakers, such as Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), supporters of the alternative bill known as OPEN (Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade), blacked out their congressional sites in solidarity.

Many lawmakers, such as Boozman, took to their Facebook pages to announce their changed position, crediting the public outcry as the primary reason. Others, such as Hatch, tweeted.

"I can say, with all honesty, that the feedback I received from Arkansans has been overwhelmingly in opposition to the Senate bill [PIPA] in its current form. That is why I am announcing today that I intend to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act," wrote Boozman on his Facebook page.

"[PIPA] is simply not ready for prime time," Hatch tweeted.

PIPA is the most immediate concern for opponents of both bills. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has yet to back down on his promise to bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote next week.

But with the Internet protest, opposition to moving PIPA to the Senate floor is growing. A number of other lawmakers who were not listed as supporters of PIPA are speaking out against the bill and urging that the process be slowed down.

"Stealing content is theft, plain and simple, but concerns about the Internet and free speech necessitate a more thoughtful, deliberative process," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on his Facebook page Wednesday. Cornyn is one of six GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that are urging Reid to hold off bringing PIPA to the floor.

SOPA won't come up again until February when it resumes markup in the House Judiciary Committee. Despite the outcry, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) seems determined to push ahead.

"It's disappointing that some SOPA critics appear not to have read the bill. The Stop Online Piracy Act only targets foreign websites that are primarily dedicated to illegal activity. It does not grant the Justice Department the authority to seek a court order to shut down any website operated in the U.S.," Smith said in a statement. "This bill will not censor the Internet. But it will protect American workers, inventors and job creators from foreign thieves who steal our products, technology and intellectual property."