Congress stalls action on Internet piracy bills

WASHINGTON — Caving to a massive campaign by Internet services and their millions of users, Congress indefinitely postponed legislation Friday to stop online piracy of movies and music costing U.S. companies billions of dollars every year. Critics said the bills would result in censorship and stifle Internet innovation.

The demise, at least for the time being, of the anti-piracy bills was a clear victory for Silicon Valley over Hollywood, which has campaigned for a tougher response to online piracy. The legislation also would cover the counterfeiting of drugs and car parts.

Congress’ qualms underscored how Internet users can use their collective might to block those who want to change the system.

The battle over the future of the Internet also played out on a different front Thursday when a loose affiliation of hackers known as “Anonymous” shut down Justice Department websites for several hours and hacked the site of the Motion Picture Association of America after federal officials issued an indictment against Megaupload.com, one of the world’s biggest file-sharing sites.

The site of the Hong Kong-based company was shut down, and the founder and three employees were arrested in New Zealand on U.S. accusations that they facilitated millions of illegal downloads of films, music and other content, costing copyright holders at least $500 million in lost revenue. New Zealand police raided homes and businesses linked to the founder, Kim Dotcom, on Friday and seized guns, millions of dollars and nearly $5 million in luxury cars, officials there said.

In the U.S., momentum against the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act and the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act, known popularly as PIPA and SOPA, grew quickly on Wednesday when the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and other Web giants staged a one-day blackout and Google organized a petition drive that attracted more than 7 million participants.

That day alone, at least six senators who had co-sponsored the Senate legislation reversed their positions. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in statements at the time and again on Friday, stressed that more consensus-building was needed before the legislation would be ready for a vote.

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was postponing a test vote set for Tuesday “in light of recent events.” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, followed suit, saying consideration of a similar House bill would be postponed “until there is wider agreement on a solution.”

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