Most Massachusetts congressional representatives oppose Internet anti-piracy bills that prompted hundreds of unhappy phone calls and emails to some of their offices and spurred protests from Google, Wikipedia and other major websites.

Most Massachusetts congressional representatives oppose Internet anti-piracy bills that prompted hundreds of unhappy phone calls and emails to some of their offices and spurred protests from Google, Wikipedia and other major websites.

Of the state’s 10 representatives, only Reps. Barney Frank and Ed Markey did not outright oppose the House version of the bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

Sen. Scott Brown vowed to vote against the Senate legislation, the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Sen. John Kerry has not taken a public stance on the bill.

The House and Senate postponed action on both bills by the end of the week as more members lined up in opposition. But leaders in Congress made clear they do not view the issue as settled.

“We made good progress through the discussions we've held in recent days, and I am optimistic that we can reach a compromise in the coming weeks,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement.

The legislation is meant to block or shut down support for foreign websites that the federal Justice Department believes are dedicated to illegally distributing copyrighted content, such as movies, music and software, and are used by people in the U.S.

Among other things, the bills would require search engines such as Google to take steps to prevent targeted sites from showing up in their search results and would cut off support from advertisers and payment networks, such as PayPal. The entertainment industry backs the legislation, saying online piracy costs millions of dollars and jobs.

But opponents say the bills are poorly worded and too broad, potentially exposing lawful U.S. websites to being blocked, sued or cut off from funding if any of their thousands of users links to or uploads copyrighted material, or if a search engine shows that a blacklisted site exists.

Critics, including major tech companies such as Google, say this would place a near-impossible burden on them to monitor all Web traffic, violate their rights to due process and stifle online innovation and jobs. Several major websites such as Wikipedia shut down their websites Jan. 18 in protest, redirecting users to information on the bills.

Brown announced his opposition on Twitter this week. “The Internet has been a source of dynamic growth in the Massachusetts economy and we should think twice before doing anything that could stifle it,” he said in a later statement.

Frank, D-4th, said earlier this week he did not yet have a final position on SOPA, the House version of the bill. He said he had to look at the legislation in more detail, but he believed its chief sponsors already had taken a reasonable step to address concerns.

Sponsors dropped a controversial provision that would have required Internet service providers to block public access to certain websites. Critics said the technical details of the measure would have forced fundamental changes in how the Internet works.

“I think piracy is a serious problem,” said Frank, who plans to retire at the end of his term later this year. “I’m a little troubled that people don’t see this.”

In a written statement, Markey, D-7th, did not outright oppose the bill, but said it should be “scrutinized for its impacts on legitimate online content and the workings of the Web.”

Markey is a senior member of the Energy in Commerce Committee, which oversees telecommunications issues. He said the committee should review the bill, “including exploring alternatives and amendments and the larger issue of how to halt online piracy without harming the Internet.” 

Most other representatives said they agree that online piracy of movies, music, software and other protected content is a significant problem, but the legislation proposed is too broad and could infringe on law-abiding websites, too.

“I think it might prohibit legitimate speech and commerce on the Internet,” said U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-9th. “It’s sort of overreaching.”

Lynch said Congress ultimately needs to act on piracy, as well as other foreign websites that target U.S. customers with bogus or dangerous pharmaceuticals.

However, “let’s look at this carefully,” he said. “There are clearly areas that need some action, but this is a pretty broad bill.”

Rep. Michael Capuano, D-8th, said he opposed SOPA early on. His office this week received about 1,000 emails and 300 phone calls about the bill from constituents, along with many posts to his Facebook page, he said.

“The issue is a legitimate issue,” Capuano said of piracy. “It’s one I do think we should be addressing … but the solution in this particular case was a little bit draconian.”

He called the backlash to the bill “a classic example of average American people making a difference.”

“I think the process worked exactly the way it’s supposed to work,” Capuano said.

U.S. Rep. John Tierney, D-6th, said his office also received about 200 phone calls and 800 emails about the anti-piracy bill in just a few days.

“The bill needs to be worked on,” Tierney said. “It looks to me a little vague in some instances and overreaches in others.”

Tierney said the legislation was well-intentioned, but should allow for more due process. Causing a website to “evaporate or disappear” may be “a little extreme,” he said.

But Congress does need to address problems with intellectual property theft, Tierney said. “I don’t think you just walk away from those challenges,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, D-3rd, said Congress needs to address piracy responsibly.

“I do believe that piracy is an issue that needs to be addressed, but SOPA in my opinion is unwise and I think can stifle innovation and free speech on the Internet,” he said.

McGovern said he hopes to encourage the development of more jobs in his district in the video game industry, where piracy is a legitimate problem.

“This is very, very important, but a very delicate issue,” he said, calling for more deliberation on the subject.

McGovern’s office saw a flood of emails, tweets, Facebook posts, phone calls and visits from people concerned about the anti-piracy bill.

“I think that’s a good thing,” McGovern said. “The people made their concerns heard and it made a difference.”

U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-2nd, said the Internet is essentially still in its infancy, and he would not want to embrace a bill that impedes its development. He called the Web “a tool of democratization.”

“I think there’s a reasonable argument here that’s being made by both sides that we should be able to find a way to protect intellectual property without curtailing free expression,” Neal said.

U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-5th, said in a written statement she supports a targeted approach to protecting intellectual property and combating piracy without entangling legitimate websites.

“The legislation is a major departure from the current ‘notice and take-down’ system that provided protection from liability for Internet service providers and websites that expeditiously remove infringing materials,” Tsongas said.

SOPA “may result in uncertainty that could disrupt Internet innovation and growth,” she said.

In a statement, Rep. William Keating, D-10th, said the House bill goes too far in limiting rights and not far enough in actually fighting piracy.

“There’s no doubt that adapting copyright law to an ever changing digital environment is a necessary and daunting task,” he said. “But one thing that remains steadfast over time is our nation’s commitment to freedom of expression.”

(David Riley can be reached at 508-626-4424 or driley@wickedlocal.com.)