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Senate Republicans Turn Against SOPA/PIPA

Today’s Internet blackout protesting the SOPA/PIPA bills – which would allow the federal government to shut down accused copyright violators online without due process – is already making an impact. Legislators who support the bills are being barraged with angry phone calls, and this morning Sen. Marco Rubio withdrew his co-sponsorship of the PIPA legislation:

I have been a co-sponsor of the PROTECT IP Act because I believe it’s important to protect American ingenuity, ideas and jobs from being stolen through Internet piracy, much of it occurring overseas through rogue websites in China. As a senator from Florida, a state with a large presence of artists, creators and businesses connected to the creation of intellectual property, I have a strong interest in stopping online piracy that costs Florida jobs.

However, we must do this while simultaneously promoting an open, dynamic Internet environment that is ripe for innovation and promotes new technologies. …

Therefore, I have decided to withdraw my support for the Protect IP Act. Furthermore, I encourage Senator Reid to abandon his plan to rush the bill to the floor. Instead, we should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides, and come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet.

This comes after six Republican senators sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid distancing themselves from the bill and asking him to postpone the vote:

“We have increasingly heard from a large number of constituents and other stakeholders with vocal concerns about possible unintended consequences of the proposed legislation, including breaches in cybersecurity, damaging the integrity of the Internet, costly and burdensome litigation, and dilution of First Amendment rights,” said Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in the letter.

Sens. Cornyn, Sessions and Coburn previously backed the bill, and Sens. Grassley and Hatch are co-sponsors.

The new opposition to SOPA/PIPA could delay a floor vote, especially because high-profile defections might encourage others to abandon the bill as well. Other Republicans who came out against SOPA/PIPA today include Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Paul Ryan.

However, there’s still plenty of bipartisan support for the bill, which is well-intentioned but potentially disastrous for websites. The law would allow a copyright holder to receive an injunction against a website for intellectual property theft. Currently, the burden of proof is on the copyright holder – he has to provide evidence that a website has stolen his intellectual property before legal action can be taken. The law would shift the burden of proof onto the accused website, which would have to provide evidence that it didn’t commit theft.

Anyone who writes for a living understands the necessity of intellectual copyright laws, and there are real problems with foreign companies – I’m looking at China – stealing intellectual property under the radar of current law enforcement mechanisms. But it’s not difficult to see how SOPA/PIPA could have unintended consequences that create devastating problems for websites.

The PIPA bill was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy, and it’s currently cosponsored by the following senators:

Sen Alexander, Lamar [TN]
Sen Ayotte, Kelly [NH]
Sen Bennet, Michael F. [CO]
Sen Bingaman, Jeff [NM]
Sen Blumenthal, Richard [CT]
Sen Blunt, Roy [MO]
Sen Boozman, John [AR]
Sen Boxer, Barbara [CA]
Sen Brown, Sherrod [OH]
Sen Cardin, Benjamin L. [MD]
Sen Casey, Robert P., Jr. [PA]
Sen Chambliss, Saxby [GA]
Sen Cochran, Thad [MS]
Sen Coons, Christopher A. [DE]
Sen Corker, Bob [TN]
Sen Durbin, Richard [IL]
Sen Enzi, Michael B. [WY]
Sen Feinstein, Dianne [CA]

Sen Franken, Al [MN]

Sen Gillibrand, Kirsten E. [NY]
Sen Graham, Lindsey [SC]

Sen Grassley, Chuck [IA]
Sen Hagan, Kay [NC]
Sen Hatch, Orrin G. [UT]
Sen Isakson, Johnny [GA]
Sen Johnson, Tim [SD]
Sen Klobuchar, Amy [MN]
Sen Kohl, Herb [WI]
Sen Landrieu, Mary L. [LA]
Sen Lieberman, Joseph I. [CT]
Sen McCain, John [AZ]
Sen Menendez, Robert [NJ]
Sen Nelson, Bill [FL]
Sen Risch, James E. [ID]
Sen Schumer, Charles E. [NY]
Sen Shaheen, Jeanne [NH]
Sen Udall, Tom [NM]
Sen Vitter, David [LA]
Sen Whitehouse, Sheldon [RI]