Is Wikipedia winning the war? US Senate slips into reverse after blackout day
Support for new web laws recedes after backlash on the internet
The backlash against two bills aimed at stopping online copyright infringement gathered pace last night, as eight US lawmakers announced that they had withdrawn their support for the measures.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 that they would no longer be backing it.
Mr Rubio, a highly regarded Republican freshman who is seen as a future presidential contender, wrote on his Facebook page that he had decided to perform the U-turn after hearing "legitimate concerns" that the bill was overly draconian.
Mr Blunt said this week's protest by websites such as Wikipedia, which went dark on Wednesday, had prompted his move. "The right to free speech is one of the most basic foundations that makes our nation great and I strongly oppose sanctioning Americans' right to free speech in any medium," he said.
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 announced that they would now be voting against the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa). One of their number, Dennis Ross of Florida, said that: "as a true free marketeer, I want IP protected correctly." 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. It said: "More than 162 million people saw our message asking if you could imagine a world without free knowledge. You said no. You shut down Congress's switchboards. You melted their servers. Millions of people have spoken in defence of a free and open internet."
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 during this election year, regardless of how cannily they are lobbied for support.
Both once-obscure bills were crafted by such powerful organisations as Hollywood film studios and trade unions and the US Chamber of Commerce. Their official purpose is to hit back against online piracy on internet sites hosted overseas.
Opponents say they amount to censorship of the internet. In theory, the bills make it illegal for sites such as Google and Wikipedia to link to sites that host even tiny amounts of pirated content. And they could also force internet service providers to block access to certain addresses.
That means they could see a swath of hapless internet users fined or imprisoned, opponents claim. Even Lamar Smith, the Republican congressman from Texas who wrote Sopa, might fall victim himself; his campaign website was reported to be carrying an uncredited landscape photograph yesterday. Although he swiftly removed it, that would not be enough to stave off prosecution under his own law.
Supporters of the bills insist that their proposed legislation is being misrepresented. Chris Dodd, a former Democratic politician who leads the Motion Picture Association of America, the film industry's leading lobbying organisation, branded this week's protests "irresponsible" and "an abuse of power".
Life & Style blogs
Plus live in a folly tower and Towcester growth
Plus how much you need to earn to rent in London, and new homes figures
Plus where The Apprentices live, house price growth outside London, and househunter numbers
The 10 Best Scotch Whiskies
Casualty in crisis: A&E - a service in meltdown
The myth of the modern dad exposed: New book claims men still won't sacrifice their careers for fatherhood
The experts' guide to summer: From getting fit for the beach to recreating that Olympic buzz
Obsessive compulsive hoarding: A serious health risk in store
- 1 Heading for America? Prepare for the longest US immigration queues ever
- 2 Notes from a small island: Is Sealand an independent 'micronation' or an illegal fortress?
- 3 You thought Ryanair's attendants had it bad? Wait 'til you hear about their pilots
- 4 'Swivel-gate': David Cameron goes to war with the press over 'swivel-eyed loons' slur
- 5 It’s official: thanks to Stephen Hawking's Israel boycott, anti-Semitism is no more
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£50000 - £58000 per annum + Benefits and Bonus: Progressive Recruitment: SAP F...
£240 - £260 per day: Progressive Recruitment: WPF Developer (C#, VB.Net) North...
Negotiable: Progressive Recruitment: Windows 7 upgrade UAT Application Testing...
£50000 - £55000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: An experienced Perl Develo...