Internet piracy issue roils Connecticut delegation

Washington — After a firestorm of opposition, congressional leaders decided Friday to scrap action on legislation aimed at fighting on the Internet that had divided the Connecticut delegation.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was putting off a vote on a Senate anti-piracy bill he had scheduled for next week “in light of recent events.” Reid said he delayed consideration of the bill to give all parties involved time to reach a compromise.

Soon after, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said he, too, would delay action on a House anti-piracy bill. A frustrated Smith accused critics of the bill of “spreading lies.”

Congress’ turnabout on the legislation is good news for Google, which darkened its website and collected 300,000 names on a petition opposing the legislation. It’s also good news for Wikipedia, which temporarily took down its English-language website in protest.

But it is very bad news for former Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, who called the Internet giants’ protests “dangerous” and an “abuse of power.” Dodd is a major lobbyist in support of the legislation.

“Some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns,” Dodd said Thursday. “It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services.”

The online piracy bills, known by their acronyms — SOPA in the House and PIPA in the Senate — aim to protect U.S. companies against foreign websites that illegally post copyrighted material. Opponents argue the legislation would harm innovation and give Washington too much power to shut down websites, even those eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.

The issue has split the Connecticut delegation.

Sen. Joe  Lieberman, an independent, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, are co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill, which would be less restrictive than SOPA.

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, is a co-sponsor of SOPA. But after Congress was deluged with phone calls in opposition, Larson seemed have rolled back on his support of the bill, saying, “I do think people have raised valid questions.”

“The issue has generated quite a bit of interest,” Larson said. “You have to tip your hat to Google and Wikipedia.”

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, called for the House to “scrap” SOPA.

“An axe instead of a scalpel, this bill would unacceptably and fundamentally change the architecture of the Internet,” Courtney said.

On Thursday, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, joined Courtney in his call to throw out  the bill.

“We need to start over with new legislation that fights back against online piracy while still preserving the freedom and flexibility of the Internet,” De Lauro said in a statement.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, had also called for a new approach.

“He appreciates the need to protect intellectual property,” said Himes spokeswoman Elizabeth Kerr. “But he believes SOPA went about it in the wrong way and had the potential to harm the vitality of the Internet.”

Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District, said the issue deserves more study.

The Obama administration last weekend indicated that legislation is not needed to protect intellectual property rights on the Internet and urged Internet platform providers to get together with content creators to work on voluntary measures.

But on Thursday, the Justice Department used the authority it has under current law to shut down the popular website Megaupload, on charges it illegally shared movies, television shows and e-books.

Hackers retaliated by temporarily blocking access to several websites, including those of the Justice Department and Universal Music.