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Protests prompt supporters of online piracy bills to back away


The backlash against two bills aimed at stopping online copyright infringement gathered pace last night, as eight US lawmakers announced they had decided to withdraw support for the measures.

Stung by claims that it would disrupt free expression and harm the internet, two key sponsors of the US Senate's Protect Intellectual Property Act (Pipa), Marco Rubio of Florida and Roy Blunt of Missouri, announced they would no longer be backing it. Mr Blunt said this week's protest by websites such as Wikipedia, which went dark on Wednesday, had prompted the move.

Two other, previously-supportive Senators, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Ben Cardin of Maryland, also jumped ship. Their volte face means that Pipa, which once looked likely to sail through the Senate with bipartisan support, is now in serious trouble.

In the House of Representatives, three Republicans and one Democrat said they would now be voting against the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa).

The sudden change in political winds reflects the huge success of Wednesday's protest, which was joined by an estimated 7,000 websites, including Google, Wordpress, and Craigslist. More than 4.5 million people put their names to a petition against Sopa.

Wikipedia said that its "blackout" had been a game-changer. "More than 162 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge," it said.

The online encyclopaedia's founder, Jimmy Wales, was anxious to stress in interviews that the bills had not yet been beaten, but few lawmakers are likely to risk inflaming public opposition in what is an election year, regardless of how cannily they are lobbied for support.