Leaders of the US Senate and House of Representatives have postponed action on two controversial pieces of proposed anti-piracy legislation.
The delay is to allow more time for concerns about the Protect IP Act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) to be considered and addressed.
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The move comes after eight US lawmakers withdrew their support for PIPA and SOPA after blackout protests on 18 January by an estimated 7,000 websites, including Wikipedia, Google and WordPress.
PIPA and SOPA have been criticised by supporters of a free internet because they aim to make internet companies accountable for hosting and linking to websites offering illicit downloads of film, TV and music.
In their original form, the bills gave content owners and the US government the power to request court orders to shut down sites associated with piracy. Advertisers, payment processors and internet service providers would be blocked from doing business with infringers based overseas. In addition, SOPA required search engines to remove foreign infringing sites from their results.
The decision to postpone action on PIPA and SOPA has been welcomed by the Business Software Alliance (BSA).
“This debate has shown how difficult it is to strike the needed balance between creating effective tools to attack online piracy while also fostering technology innovation, protecting free speech and preserving an open and secure Internet,” said BSA resident and chief executive Robert Holleyman.
He commended leaders of both chambers for their determination to craft legislation that will deter piracy by foreign rogue websites.
“SOPA and PIPA, as considered in committee, did not achieve the needed balance,” said Holleyman, who outlined BSA’s concerns with SOPA in a November blog post.
“There is more still to be done to ensure the bills do no harm to technology innovation and the growth of the internet. We stand ready to continue working with members of Congress and other stakeholders as this process moves forward,” he said.
Google, Facebook and other supporters of a free internet have come out in support of alternative legislation introduced by Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican.
The Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act would allow copyright holders to refer complaints about copyright infringement at foreign websites to the US International Trade Commission (ITC) for investigation.
"OPEN is a targeted, effective solution to the problem of foreign, rogue websites stealing from American artists and innovators," Darrell Issa said in a statement.
The OPEN Act has been criticised by the film industry for defining rogue websites too narrowly and not requiring any action by search engines.
Other critics say the OPEN Act is not an effective tool for combating online intellectual property theft and amounts to a safe harbour for foreign criminals who steal US technology, products and intellectual property.
There has been no indication of when work on anti-piracy legislation in the US will resume, but the Obama administration has said that, while it is opposed to the more controversial aspects of PIPA and SOPA, online piracy by foreign websites is a serious problem that requires a serious legislative response.