Whitehouse bucks Wikipedia, stays sponsor of Protect IP Act

Google is protesting the two bills

Wikipedia’s blackout hasn’t convinced U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse to drop his support for a controversial bill to beef up regulation of the Internet.

“The PROTECT IP Act is a sensible, bipartisan response to this serious problem,” Whitehouse, D-R.I., told WPRI.com in a statement Wednesday.

The bill would “advance protections for American intellectually property online,” he said. The freshman Senate Judiciary Committee member has been a cosponsor of the legislation since U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced it May 12.

The PROTECT IP Act and its House counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), have run into a firestorm of opposition online and been criticized for potentially compromising cybersecurity by lawmakers including Whitehouse’s Rhode Island colleague, Congressman Jim Langevin. Wikipedia and Google are among a host of sites protesting the bills publicly Wednesday.

Another one of Whitehouse’s fellow cosponsors, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, dropped his support for the Protect IP Act on Wednesday morning and called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone a vote scheduled for next week. “We should take more time to address the concerns raised by all sides,” Rubio, R-Fla., wrote on Facebook.

Whitehouse said he supports Leahy’s decision last week to remove – “until further study” – a section of the Protect IP Act that drew particular criticism from Langevin, which would have altered the operations of the Domain Name System, which connects websites. Protect IP’s supporters say it differs substantially from SOPA.

“The PROTECT IP Act will not affect Wikipedia, will not affect Reddit, and will not affect any website that has any legitimate use,” Leahy said Tuesday. “A foreign rogue website is clearly defined as one that has no real purpose other than infringement.”

Meanwhile, the Providence Community Library is using Wikipedia’s day off as a way to reach out to patrons. “Our PCL librarians are like human wikipedias!” the library tweeted Wednesday. “No kidding, give ’em a try!”

Update: U.S. Sen. Jack Reed broke with Whitehouse and came out against the Protect IP Act on Wednesday afternoon. “I am opposed to passage of this legislation as currently drafted,” Reed told WPRI.com in a statement.

“Stealing intellectual property is wrong – there are no two ways about it,” he said. “But, I am very worried that these bills could have unknown and damaging impacts on other important policy goals. This needs to be done right, and I don’t think we should rush it.”

Another one of Whitehouse’s cosponsors – U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas – dropped his support for the bill shortly after Rubio did.

Congressman David Cicilline’s office is expected to address the issue at some point Wednesday, as well.

Update #2: Looks like Senator Whitehouse is all alone on this one. Congressman David Cicilline just issued a statement opposing SOPA, too:

After careful review of the proposed legislation and reflecting on the concerns expressed to me by Rhode Islanders, I have decided to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act as it is currently drafted.

Although I am deeply concerned that online piracy is a serious issue confronting American businesses and intellectual property owners, as currently written, SOPA unduly burdens constitutional rights of freedom of speech and due process, poses significant threats to the Internet remaining open, safe and secure, and could stifle future innovation that would be counterproductive to future growth and development of our nation.

I spoke to Congressman Berman, one of the cosponsors today, and understand that substantial revisions of the proposed bill are likely, and I will, of course, continue to pay close attention to any new versions of this bill.

Update #3: This is one issue about which Cicilline and his Republican opponent, Brendan Doherty, agree. Doherty’s political director, Rob Coupe, told WPRI.com his candidate isn’t in favor of SOPA, either:

Obviously, piracy is a serious issue. But he doesn’t think this approach is the way to address it. He’s had some concerns with these bills, which I think are probably pretty similar to what other folks are saying. Obviously, one is the issue of censorship concern that a lot of people have.

More than that, he’s worried about potentially suppressing a rapidly developing area of technology and economic growth. Sometimes, well-intentioned government regulation has the side effect of hurting economic growth.

Update #4: Late Wednesday, Langevin’s office announced he has signed on as “an original cosponsor” of Congressman Darrell Issa’s Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, which supporters are dubbing the “OPEN Act.”

Langevin said the new bill offers “a middle ground for curbing online piracy while protecting American jobs and innovative technologies that have allowed us to remain the world leader online.” Issa explains it here.

Update #5: Providence Mayor Angel Taveras piled on late in the day. “We need to protect creativity without harming liberty,” he tweeted. “Providence’s creative economy relies on an open Internet. I oppose #SOPA.”

Speaking of which, Senator Whitehouse’s Twitter feed has stayed silent all day even as he’s been on the receiving end of a long stream of critical tweets from Protect IP Act opponents, including some of his constituents.

Whitehouse’s Republican challenger this year, Barry Hinckley, opposes the bill and made sure to tweak him repeatedly. Langevin’s anti-SOPA tweet got 29 retweets, while Cicilline’s got two.

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