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Published: Monday, 1/23/2012

Piracy is a crime

Congress met the new kids on the lobbying block -- and promptly caved in to their demands.

The influence peddlers weren't dealing in dollars this time. The targets of their ire were two bills that are intended to cut off Internet access to foreign sites that sell pirated products to U.S. customers.

The blowback from the virtual world started with Wikipedia, which shut down its site in protest last Wednesday, and went viral. In one day, 4.5 million Google customers signed an online petition.

Some 2 million Twitter users posted their opposition to the measures. Calls to congressional offices were arriving at a rate of 2,000 a second.

In response, Florida Republican Marco Rubio, a key sponsor of the Senate's Protect Intellectual Property Act, and influential supporters of the House's Stop Online Piracy Act backed away from measures that had been expected to sail easily toward passage. Not anymore.

The quick congressional turnabout suggests that sponsors need to tighten up language in their bills to prevent overreaching. But calls to abandon the measures are problematic.

SOPA and PIPA -- despite opponents' hyperbole suggesting the bills spell the end of free speech and other horrors -- would have provided means to deal with real-world repercussions of irresponsible and criminal behavior on the Internet.

The focus has been on Internet thievery as it affects the entertainment industry, with movie-makers, musicians, and book publishers at the forefront of the effort. But online piracy reaches into all forms of commerce.

Many of the businesses and people who create content and products that are available on the Internet are entitled to protection under U.S. copyright laws. But the regulations have no teeth against companies based on foreign soil. The intent of SOPA and PIPA is to reform enforcement policies so they will work in the virtual world.

That remains a worthy goal for Congress. Lawmakers should not be afraid to tackle the issue, no matter how many emails flood their inboxes.

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