Foes of proposed anti-piracy laws step up their protests

January 17, 2012: 4:50 PM ET

Opponents of SOPA and PIPA notch up their criticism as several big Web sites plan to go dark on Wednesday.

FORTUNE -- Some slight congressional backpedaling on controversial anti-piracy legislation isn't slowing opposition. If anything, criticism of the House and Senate bills is growing louder and more widespread. Several big Web sites including Wikipedia, Reddit and Boing Boing will go dark on Wednesday in protest of the bills. Google (GOOG) won't black out, but it will include a note of protest on its homepage.

Almost as if in answer, the House's main sponsor of the legislation, Texas Republican Lamar Smith, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that the Judiciary Committee, of which he is the chairman, will take up the legislation again in February.

That comes after an announcement last week from Smith that his committee would remove provisions from the bill for blocking domain name service, which opponents have said could cause major disruptions to Internet traffic. But that was hardly the only controversial aspect of the bills, and many others remain. The Atlantic's Adam Clark Estes described Smith's statement as "pumping the brakes."

The House's version is the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA). In Senate, it's the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Among other provisions, both would allow the Justice Department and copyright owners to obtain court orders demanding that search engines and other Web sites stop linking to foreign sites that are accused of offering pirated merchandise or digital goods such as movies and music. They could also demand that ad networks and payment processors stop "doing business" with suspected pirate sites. The media industry and several business groups say the legislation is needed to stop piracy.

Opponents point out that the legislation, if passed, would make it impossible for search engines and others to conduct their business, would stifle investment and innovation, would skirt constitutional due process, could create technical havoc, and would in many cases amount to censorship. There are other, better ways to combat piracy, they say.

Many of the bills' opponents gathered on Twitter for a chat about the legislation on Tuesday under the hashtag #ASNEchat. Smith's slight backpedal came after the White House's statement last week that would oppose any bill that includes censorship, inhibits innovation or includes DNS blocking. All well and good, but there is "no reason to let up on pressure," tweeted the Center for Democracy and Technology.

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