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It is time for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Senate to recognize that PIPA is a lot more controversial and complicated than they thought. That means withdrawing their motion for cloture and promoting a balanced and open discussion about the best ways to address legitimate concerns regarding digital copyright infringement and counterfeiting without trampling civil liberties, disrupting the inner workings of the Internet, or harming the economic potential of the Internet economy.
While an extraordinarily large and diverse group of individuals, companies, and organizations have been making this very point for weeks and months, the last few days have witnessed the emergence of a bipartisan consensus that PIPA is fatally flawed. The only reasonable action at this point is to engage in a hard reset and begin a fact-based dialogue with representatives of all sides. Such an approach would be a significant improvement over PIPA's original hearing-free approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Friday, Chairman Lamar Smith announced his intention to remove the Domain Name System (DNS) elements from SOPA, PIPA's cousin in the House. This reversal followed weeks and months of defending DNS filtering as effective and not harmful to cyber security and human rights solely based on the word of a few individuals the pro-SOPA/PIPA lobby actively amplified. Such a late stage adjustment to a central part of the bill suggests that the entire concept may be fatally flawed, given that much of the legislation was drafted in a similar one sided manner.
That same day, Republican Senators Grassley, Hatch, Sessions, Cornyn, Lee and Coburn – two of whom co-sponsored PIPA - wrote to Leader Reid urging him to slow the advance of PIPA and give the Senate a real chance to consider its implications.
Yesterday the White House weighed in with concerns as well. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, and Special Assistant to the President and Cybersecurty Coordinator for National Security Howard Schmidt expressed reservations about any provisions that would encourage online censorship, create cybersecurity risks by disrupting the underlying architecture of the Internet, provide blanket immunity to intermediaries, and allow incumbents to litigate innovative startups to death.
Senators Grassley, Hatch, Sessions, Cornyn, Lee, and Coburn, Coordinator Espinel, Chief Chopra, and Coordinator Schmidt, and countless companies, online services, websites, entrepreneurs, editorial boards, bloggers, nonprofit organizations, and think tanks are all correct – the solution to online counterfeiting and copyright infringement requires all sides to work together and all legitimate concerns to be considered and addressed. If it was not clear before, it is clear now that PIPA fails to do that.
At this point, the only responsible course of action is to withdrawn the motion for cloture and engage in a balanced and open discussion around these complex issues. It is time for the Senate leadership to take their collective feet off the gas, step back, and give this issue the thoughtful debate that it deserves.
Chairman Darrell Issa and Senator Ron Wyden have begun this work with the OPEN Act and have even dedicated an entire website to transparency and inclusiveness in the process. Such an approach to considering legislation that impacts something as important as the Internet should serve as a model and be embraced by the rest of the Senate.