US Senate Vote on Controversial Online Piracy Bill Postponed

Posted January 20th, 2012 at 1:30 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.S. Senate is postponing next week's vote on a bill targeting online piracy, after Internet companies staged an online blackout to protest the legislation and a similar bill in the House of Representatives.

Wednesday's protest caused some lawmakers to withdraw support for the bills — the Stop Online Piracy Act before the House, and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate. Critics at organizations such as Wikipedia and Google say the bills would censor the Web and threaten freedom of expression.

Advocates of the legislation say it is needed to protect those who create movies, television shows, music and software from people who illegally copy and distribute their work.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Friday said he is confident lawmakers can reach a compromise that protects Americans' intellectual property and maintains openness and innovation on the Internet.

Even without new legislation, Washington is pushing forward with its fight against theft of copyrighted materials.

In what the U.S. is calling one of its largest criminal copyright cases ever, four executives of the file-sharing website Megaupload appeared in a New Zealand court Friday, a day after the U.S. government shut down the site. U.S. prosecutors have charged its founder and six others with violating piracy laws.

The New Zealand judge ruled that the men would remain in custody until a second hearing on Monday.

Megaupload was a popular site allowing users to upload and transfer very large files. U.S. officials say the site used this ability to make copyrighted material, like Hollywood movies, available free, often before films are even released in theaters. Authorities say Megaupload cost copyright holders more than $500 million.

But the company and many celebrity supporters say the site was mainly used for legitimate file transfers.

If found guilty, the suspects face more than 20 years in prison.

New Zealand police raided 10 properties around the city of Auckland and arrested Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom and other top executives at the request of U.S. authorities. They seized millions of dollars worth of assets, including luxury cars and artwork.

The shutdown of Megaupload appeared to prompt retaliation from a hackers' group known as Anonymous, which claimed responsibility for attacks on the website of the U.S. Justice Department and several entertainment industry sites.

Most of the sites were back online by Friday. The FBI says it is investigating.