In a statement from his office Thursday evening, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D - Vt.), who co-authored the current version of the PROTECT-IP bill (also known as PIPA) along with Sen. Orrin Hatch (R - Utah), said he is now willing to set aside the most controversial aspect of the anti-piracy legislation currently under discussion. Sen. Leahy now says that the provision that would empower courts to order service providers to block access to foreign sites under investigation for suspected illicit trafficking, should be set aside for further study.
Leahy credits his Vermont constituents for giving him insight into the issue, as well as service providers, whom he admits stand in opposition to the provision.
The bill is still scheduled for a floor vote January 24, though the statement from Leahy's office this evening indicates that the legislation under consideration may have the controversial court order provision stricken.
The section with Leahy will recommend be set aside grants the court the ability to issue an injunction or restraining order against a domain name. In the act of carrying out that injunction, DNS servers may be issued court orders compelling them to "take the least burdensome technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent the domain name described in the order from resolving to that domain name's Internet protocol address," granted that such measures would not force them to redesign their networks.
The House version of the legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act, remains under consideration and, as of now, continues to contain the counterpart to the court order provision. Earlier today, its principal author, Rep. Lamar Smith (R - Texas), vowed to press forward with the SOPA legislation as it stood, but that statement was made prior to Leahy's.
Any final legislation passing Congress would need to be a reconciliation between both bills, which may now be more difficult if SOPA were to pass the House with the court order provision intact.
The senator broke the news of his decision in a response to a question on Vermont Public Radio this morning.
According to VPR reporter Patti Daniels, Leahy said, "I'm going to set aside these Domain Name provisions. That we'll hold back on, because I've listened to some of the concerns on those. I think there [are] easy answers to it, but let's set it aside, let's spend a year or so studying that part."
The full text of Sen. Leahy's statement follows:
The PROTECT IP Act provides new tools for law enforcement to combat rogue websites that operate outside our borders but target American consumers with stolen American property and counterfeits. One of those tools enables law enforcement to secure a court order asking Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to use the Domain Name System to prevent consumer access to foreign rogue websites. This provision was drafted in response to concerns that law enforcement has remedies it can take against domestic websites, but does not currently have the power to stop foreign rogue websites. I worked closely with the ISPs in drafting this provision to ensure they were comfortable with how it would work, and I appreciate their support.
The process in drafting the legislation has always been an open one in which we have heard from all third parties, and have worked to address as many outstanding concerns as possible. It is through this process that we have gained the support of the majority of third parties who will be asked to take action under the legislation, as well as a bipartisan group of 40 cosponsors in the Senate.
It is also through this process that I and the bill's cosponsors have continued to hear concerns about the Domain Name provision from engineers, human rights groups, and others. I have also heard from a number of Vermonters on this important issue. I remain confident that the ISPs - including the cable industry, which is the largest association of ISPs - would not support the legislation if its enactment created the problems that opponents of this provision suggest. Nonetheless, this is in fact a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it.
As I prepare a managers' amendment to be considered during the floor debate, I will therefore propose that the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied before implemented, so that we can focus on the other important provisions in this bill, which are essential to protecting American intellectual property online, and the American jobs that are tied to intellectual property. I regret that law enforcement will not have this remedy available to it when websites operating overseas are stealing American property, threatening the safety and security of American consumers. However, the bill remains a strong and balanced approach to protecting intellectual property through a no-fault, no-liability system that leverages the most relevant players in the Internet ecosystem.
In a response this evening, Sen. Ron Wyden (D - Ore.), the co-author of the competing Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, vowed he would continue his plan to block whatever parts of the Leahy-Hatch bill would try to reach the floor for a vote.
"It is welcome news that proponents of PIPA are finally accepting that it contains major flaws," stated Sen. Wyden. "Unfortunately, this announcement to study the DNS provision does not eliminate the clearly identified threat to net security contained within this bill. Beyond the DNS provisions, the bill still establishes a censorship regime that threatens speech, innovation, and the future of the American economy. I remain firm in my intent to block consideration of the PIPA bill until these issues are addressed and I am committed to doing all I can to ensure that whatever legislative course is taken, that it is fully transparent, fully understood and fully considered by all those who value the Internet."