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Protest against antipiracy laws cows lawmakers to withdraw support

The message could not have been clearer: Keep your hands off our Internet.

As protests spread — online and on the street — Wednesday against proposed federal legislation to fight movie and TV piracy over the Internet, several high-profile lawmakers withdrew their support for the bills, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

Twitter feeds and Facebook pages for lawmakers filled with comments, as tech-savvy constituents voiced fears regarding the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House of Representatives and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate.

Both bills attempt to curb piracy of copyrighted materials on foreign sites by removing access to them by U.S.-based Internet users.

Some lawmakers reported hundreds of telephone calls to their offices as a "blackout" of services by sites like Wikipedia, Craigs­list, Reddit and Mozilla turned an issue that had simmered in the technology and media worlds into front page news.

Rubio, a Republican, announced on his Facebook page that he would no longer serve as a co-sponsor of PIPA, urging Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid to abandon plans to rush the bill to the Senate floor.

A spokesman for Rubio said he decided to withdraw his support as the day began Wednesday.

"We should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides," Rubio wrote. "(We should) come up with new legislation that addresses Internet piracy while protecting free and open access to the Internet."

Florida's other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, remained supportive of the PIPA legislation, saying the proposed law would be improved.

Across the nation, legislators ranging from Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, removed or reduced their support for the bills. By day's end, at least 10 senators and nearly twice that many House members had announced their opposition.

The Wall Street Journal reported that both sides of the debate expect the legislation to be renegotiated in the weeks ahead.

A spokesman for Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, said he would likely drop his co-sponsorship of SOPA this week, particularly if chief sponsor Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, continues with plans to mark up the bill next month.

"We don't understand the rush," said Ross' spokesman Fred Piccolo. "Something this big and this controversial, we should take some time to consider it."

At Rep. C.W. Bill Young's office, a spokesman reported getting hundreds of calls about the legislation in recent days and thousands of responses from constituents over the past few weeks. The Pinellas County Republican has told members of the committee developing SOPA that he opposes it, according to press secretary Harry Glenn.

"He would see it as censorship," Glenn said.

Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, expressed similar concerns in an email to the Times, writing, "I am opposed to SOPA but remain interested in effective ways to address online piracy."

Thousands of websites participated in the protest "blackout" Wednesday, either directing users to contact lawmakers or featuring stories about the possible consequences of both bills.

Critics say the legislation might fail to curb piracy while causing loads of unintended consequences — overly restricting Internet access to foreign platforms.

"The blackout scared (legislators)," said Michael Hussey, editor of the Tampa Bay area political blog Pushing Rope, who participated in the protest. "It worked."

Times staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report.

Protest against antipiracy laws cows lawmakers to withdraw support 01/18/12 [Last modified: Thursday, January 19, 2012 9:19am]
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