(Updated 3:38 p.m.) As a handful of websites went dark Wednesday in protest of two Internet piracy bills making their way through Congress, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he would oppose the bill he co-sponsored unless “serious flaws” were corrected.
“I believe that online piracy and intellectual property theft is a very serious problem that needs to be addressed but I have steadfastly opposed SOPA and I believe that my conversations with advocates, experts and constituents have indicated serious flaws in the Protect Intellectual Property Act that need to be addressed and corrected,” Blumenthal said after an unrelated press conference in Hartford.
His comments came around the time websites like Mozilla, Wikipedia, MoveOn, Reddit, WordPress, and 5,000 others lifted their 12-hour Internet strike protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and PIPA, the Senate bill. According to Fight the Future, a non-profit dedicated to online rights, more 62,000 sites signed up for the strike on sopastrike.com. The group estimated that more than 10,000 were participating.
In December Blumenthal said PIPA aimed to “protect intellectual property from thieves.”
“It costs American jobs and Connecticut industries that depend on their intellectual property,” he said.
Currently, foreign websites are in “flagrant violation of the protections that apply to websites here.” He said the legislation targets foreign websites dedicated to “infringing activities defined under the law as having no significant use other than engaging in copyright infringement.”
But technology companies, including Facebook, Google, and Mozilla say the bills go too far and will impact the basic structure of the Internet, including domestic websites.
On Wednesday Blumenthal conceded the bill may be too broad, limiting free expression, innovation and creative spirit. It may also alter the architecture of the Internet, he said.
“I would oppose the Protect Intellectual Property Act if those flaws are not addressed and corrected,” he said.
Blumenthal agreed with U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, who called on Congress to scrap SOPA and start over. Courtney, who had previously been on the fence on the issue, released a statement Tuesday saying problems with SOPA should be corrected with “an axe instead of a scalpel.”
“… this bill would unacceptably and fundamentally change the architecture of the internet,” he said.
However, Blumenthal said PIPA can be reworked to correct its flaws. Still, he wasn’t counting on either bill clearing Congress this year.
“My current expectation is that passage this year is unlikely,” he said.
That news would likely disappoint Blumenthal’s predecessor former U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, who now heads the Motion Picture Association of America. Dodd has been the main proponent of both pieces of legislation. In a Tuesday statement, he condemned the planned Internet blackout.
“A so-called ‘blackout’ is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals,” Dodd said.
He said the MPAA hoped Congress and the White House would call on the websites to stop using PR Stunts. But it was a White House statement that emboldened the sites to stage the blackout.
The blackout forced some lawmakers to take sides, while others were asked to clarify their positions.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes said he never supported SOPA because it’s “far too blunt an instrument” that could destroy the vibrancy and free speech of the Internet. The way the bill is drafted also raises cybersecurity concerns, he said in a phone interview Wednesday.
Himes marveled at the blackout as a form of “advocacy unlike anything I’ve seen before.”
“My Twitter feed has been fast and furious all day,” Himes said.
He said the blackout allowed people who weren’t following the issue to become aware of it. In the end he thinks there’s a responsible approach Congress can take to “square the circle so Hollywood doesn’t continue to do battle with Palo Alto.”
He said some of that approach may be in the Open Act. The Open Act was proposed by opponents of SOPA to solve the same Internet piracy issues using more measured approaches.
Still some lawmakers are still concerned all of the piracy legislation is aimed at a problem that doesn’t exist.
In a conference call with reporters, U.S. Rep. John Larson, the only member of the Connecticut delegation to sign on as a co-sponsor of SOPA, said the people at Google and Wikipedia deserved a “tip of the hat” for their grassroots movement. Larson said he still supported the bill but said there is room for compromise.
“Nobody wants to impact the robust nature of the Internet and the freedom it provides,” he said. “… There are less restrictive ways to accomplish the same ends.”
Larson said his office has received a number of calls asking that the bill not move forward. However, he said online piracy is an issue that needs to be addressed. The U.S. economy loses $58 billion annually as a result of the practice, which he said impacts 19 million people in the intellectual property industry.
The bill is currently in the mark up phase of the legislative process and will change and evolve in ways that will hopefully address some of the concerns, he said. Larson said based on the push back, Blumenthal’s assessment that the bill was unlikely to pass this year was probably fair.
“In this Congress any piece of legislation faces enormous difficulty,” he said.
The need to address online piracy, however won’t go away, he said.
“The salient issue of protecting intellectual property rights and the enormous economic loss to the nation will remain the same,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s office reaffirmed his support for PIPA, saying he is still co-sponsoring the legislation.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expressed his support for the Senate’s Protect IP Act in June in this letter to Blumenthal.
“Since Connecticut’s tax incentive for film and digital media became effective in July 2006, the state has become a prime production location,” Malloy wrote.
Intellectual property piracy costs the global economy an estimated $650 billion a year, he wrote. On Wednesday, Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman, said there are legitimate issues on both sides of the debate.
“We have a thriving film and television industry that brings jobs and millions of dollars to our state, and we have to protect it,” Doba said in an email. “At the same time, we can’t stifle emerging new media organizations. The governor will work with the delegation to find a legislative solution that strikes this balance.”