The controversial copyright enforcement bill the Protect IP Act may be amended on the Senate floor later this month in response to ongoing concerns about its provisions affecting Internet service providers and the domain-name system, the bill's chief sponsor said.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chief sponsor of the Protect IP Act, or PIPA, said Thursday he plans to offer an amendment that would require a study of the impact of the ISP provisions in the bill before they are implemented.
If the study found negative impacts, it's likely the ISP provision would be killed. The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on PIPA on Jan. 24.
PIPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring U.S. ISPs to block access to foreign websites accused by the DOJ of infringing copyright. Opponents of PIPA and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a similar bill in the House of Representatives, have argued that the bills would lead to widespread cybersecurity problems as U.S. Internet users attempt to circumvent the blocks, and could lead to the blocking of legitimate speech.
Leahy defended the bill, saying the ISP provisions were developed in consultation with major service providers. Several ISPs support the bill, he said in comments on Vermont Public Radio. However, sponsors of the bill have heard concerns about its effect on the domain name system from fellow lawmakers, Internet engineers, human rights groups and "a number of Vermonters," he said.
"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," Leahy said. "Nonetheless, this is in fact a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it."
Other provisions of the bill would allow the DOJ and copyright owners to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks and payment processors to stop doing business with websites accused of infringement. Those provisions would remain in the bill.
It appears that Leahy's amendment would not strip out a provision in PIPA that would allow court orders requiring search engines to stop linking to the accused sites. Leahy did not talk about the search engine provision when talking about the amendment, a spokeswoman said.
The amendment will allow the Senate to "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," Leahy said. "I regret that law enforcement will not have this [ISP] remedy available to it when websites operating overseas are stealing American property, threatening the safety and security of American consumers."
However, the other portions of the bill offer "a strong and balanced approach to protecting intellectual property," Leahy said.
A spokesman for Public Knowledge, a digital rights group opposed to PIPA, said the group would have to see specifics before taking a position on the amendment. The bill "would have to be watered down a lot to be acceptable," said Art Brodsky, communications director at Public Knowledge.
On Wednesday, Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and SOPA opponent, has scheduled a hearing on the security impact of the legislation. The hearing will take place in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Issa chairs.
Community news site Reddit.com plans to go dark on Wednesday in a protest against SOPA and PIPA.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.