Internet companies that led the protest against anti-online piracy bills in Congress have the responsibility to move beyond opposition and come up with realistic alternatives that protect intellectual property rights.

As Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who introduced Protect IP Act, or PIPA, the Senate version of the bill, told Vermont Public Radio, “If people have a better idea, bring it on.”

Leahy said those in the technology industry were invited to come before Congress as the bill was being drawn up but “it was beneath them to testify; they didn’t want to bother.”

PIPA and its House counterpart Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, target foreign Web operations that trade in counterfeit goods ranging from designer handbags to pharmaceuticals, as well as stolen intellectual property such as movies and music.

Some of the nation’s leading online companies, such as Google, along with millions of Internet users showed their concern about how the bills might affect everything from innovation to commerce to freedom of speech online.

The widespread protest says that some of the most important technology players driving innovation and commerce on the Web see PIPA and SOPA as dire threats to their way of life.

Even the White House released a statement saying it opposes parts of the bill and would “not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cyber security risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

These concerns from the companies and people who live and breathe the Internet must be taken seriously. If the fears are baseless, as Leahy contends, he and the bill’s other supporters in Congress have a duty to allay these concerns before moving forward.

Obviously, Congress failed to do this.

The size and scope of the protest sent some sponsors and supporters of the two bills scurrying for cover, but that is no solution. Online piracy needs to be addressed.

Leahy is right to stand by his convictions, but must follow through on his stated openness to amend and improve the legislation, and take the time to do so. Now that those same companies are clamoring for input, Leahy has the opportunity to play the statesman and welcome their participation in coming up with a better solution to combat online piracy.

Congress needs to take the time to get anti-piracy legislation right, and get the people who actually use the Internet on board. The last thing lawmakers need is to be blamed for breaking the Internet.

— Burlington (Vt.) Free Press