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Plans to curb online piracy stall in gun-shy Congress

It's been more than a month since lawmakers shelved legislation to help curb piracy on foreign websites and neither side appears ready yet to sit down and figure out the next steps.

Both critics and supporters of the House anti-piracy legislation known as the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate bill known as the Protect IP Act met Thursday at an event sponsored by the D.C. Independent Film Festival to discuss the issue. Both bills were sidelined in January following protests from tech companies and Internet activists worried that the bills could harm the integrity of the Internet and stifle free speech.

"The idea that you create a bill that has raised so many red flags, that seems so draconian and is so easy to mischaracterize ... means we need to go back to the drawing board," Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., who co-sponsored SOPA but acknowledged it was flawed, told the group. "The existing version of SOPA, I think, is dead."

While both sides agree that something needs to be done to crack down on websites that offer pirated movies and music or counterfeit goods, there has been little movement forward.

"I'm not aware of any plans to push another version of that legislation," said Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, which represents music, movie and television industry interests.

Ernesto Falcon, director of public affairs for Public Knowledge, said while he thinks there is broad support for an approach that focuses on cutting off funding to infringing foreign websites, the political environment is not right yet to engage on the issue.

"I think the problem is the politics," said Falcon, whose group opposed both SOPA and Protect IP. "There are lots of members that just recognize if 'I do anything that touches the Internet, I'm just going to get killed.'...Even if there are honest discussions on a way forward, politically it's going to have to wait until the public has a chance to cool down."

House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who helped lead opposition to SOPA in the House, agreed last month that it would take time to restart the debate. Issa has offered alternative legislation that would put the International Trade Commission instead of the Justice Department at the center of efforts to crack down on infringing foreign websites. While the bill has been dismissed by most content groups, Issa told Tech Daily Dose last month that he may hold a hearing on what role the ITC could play in the issue.

"I'm holding out hope but not in this Congress," Issa said. "The problem with SOPA and [Protect IP] was that it was long talked about and then very quickly thrown at people. I want something that's out there for a long period of time, that there is continual improvements in."

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