The PROTECT IP Act of 2011

PIPA is the abbreviated name of the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 or PROTECT IP Act of 2011 (S 968). It is a United States Senate Bill that is a re-write of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act of 2010 (COICA). The Stop Online Piracy Act of 2011 (HR 3261) is a similar United States House of Representatives Bill to the PROTECT IP Act. It was introduced by Representative Lamar Smith on 26 October 2011.

The Bill was introduced by Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy on 12 May 2011. At introduction it was supported by 11 bipartisan co-sponsors. On 26 May 2011 the Senate Committee on the Judiciary unanimously voted to report in favor of the PROTECT IP Act. Later that day Democrat Senator Ronald Wyden, senior Senator for Oregon (OR), placed a Senatorial hold on the Bill, postponing it from going to a full floor vote.

On 13 January 2012 a groups of Senators on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary wrote to the Democrat Senate Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid, senior Senator from Nevada (NV), requesting he withdraw the proposed vote on the PROTECT IP Act until concerns with the legislation were addressed. These Senators were:


While commentary and criticism of both PIPA and SOPA was common, it wasn’t until 16 November 2011 that a coordinated protest took place. On that day,  TumblrMozillaTechdirt, the Center for Democracy and TechnologyBoingBoing, 4Chan and a number of other websites took part in American Censorship Day, blocking out their logos that read, “Stop Censorship”. Google linked to an online petition against the Bills from, collecting more than 7 million signatures from the United States.

A second online day of action was called for 18 January 2012. Collectively dubbed the SOPA Blackout, this time many of the sites involved blacked out part or all of their websites. Confirmed participants included WikipediaGoogleCreative CommonsElectronic Frontier FoundationWIREDredditMozillaWordPress, Tumblr, Vimeo, Flickr, the icanhazcheezburger network and Internet Archive, among others. On that same day the following Senators withdraw their support of the Bill:

  • Judiciary Committee Ranking Member, Republican Senator Charles Grassley, senior Senator from Iowa (IA);
  • Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte, junior Senator from New Hampshire (NH);
  • Republican Senator John Boozman, junior Senator from Arkansas (AR);
  • Republican Senator Roy Blunt, junior Senator from Missouri (MO);
  • Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, senior Senator from Utah (UT);
  • Democratic Senator Michael Bennet, junior Senator from Colorado (CO);
  • Republican Senator Marco Rubio, junior Senator from Florida (FL); and
  • Republican Senator James Risch, junior Senator from Idaho (ID).

On 20 January 2012, Senator Reid announced that a vote on PIPA will be postponed.

Key provisions

If enacted, the Bill will introduce numerous new court orders a private copyright owner can seek. These new orders are particularly designed to block revenue streams to and visibility of allegedly infringing foreign sites.

Orders to reduce revenue

To reduce direct revenue to these ‘rogue websites’ from American sources, the Bill includes include orders to force American advertising networks and payment facilities from conducting business with allegedly infringing websites. Put simply, this is designed to ensure that no American company or individual is feeding funds into an allegedly infringing website. Restricting advertising networks by court order will stop advertising spend by American companies to the site, while an order to restrict payment facilities from processing payments on behalf of these sites also ensures no American citizen or company can buy products or services or donate to the website either.

Basically, this part of the Bill is designed to legitimise the payment blockade that Visa and MasterCard helped enforce against WikiLeaks. Both financial providers began withholding payments to the whistleblowing site last year because of pressure on them from the US Government. Of course, at that time there was no legal grounds on which to justify the action. Visa and MasterCard were merely responding to political pressure. These provisions will remove any legal uncertainty around similar payment blockades against allegedly infringing websites in the future.


Orders to reduce access

The Bill also includes another set of orders designed to force search engines to remove search results that point to allegedly infringing websites and orders to force internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to the sites. These two orders are designed to reduce American internet traffic to the website. Reduced traffic flow reduces advertising revenues and potential donors to any fundraising activity on the site. It also reduces access to allegedly infringing American content hosted on the website (at least in the United States anyway).

Extended criminal provisions

The Bill if passed will also see the existing criminal laws expanded to include unauthorised streaming of copyright material. Such acts would attract a maximum of five years in prison.


SOURCE: ‘Bill Summary & Status, 112th Congress (2011 – 2012), S.968, Cosponsors‘ Thomas search on The Library of Congress website. Last queried 28 January 2012.

About key players

About Senator Patrik Leahy

Senator Patrick Leahy is a member of the Democratic Party and is the elected senior Senator from Vermont (VT). Senator Leahy is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary for the 112th Congress. He also introduced COICA.

About Senator Roy Wyden

Senator Roy Wyden is a member of the Democratic Party and is the elected the senior Senator for Oregon (OR).

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