Let’s define some terms here. The Internet censorship bills have different names depending on which chamber of Congress you’re talking about. The House bill is called SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act. That bill is currently in the committee process and has not yet cleared the Judiciary Committee. Observers thought this would happen at the end of last year, but House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith cancelled the conclusion of the markup at the last minute.

But in the Senate the Judiciary Committee has already cleared their version of the legislation known as PIPA, the Protect Intellectual Property Act. And what I didn’t realize until today is that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed for cloture on PIPA at the end of last year. So that will be the first item on the agenda in 2012. In fact, there’s already a date scheduled for the motion to proceed: January 24, at 2:15pm.

Sen. Ron Wyden already placed a hold on the bill objecting to moving it through by unanimous by unanimous consent, which is why there will be a cloture motion. Apparently holds are only honored with a delay in the vote when Republicans do them. Nevertheless, Wyden has at least three colleagues from both parties opposed to cloture – Jerry Moran, Maria Cantwell and Rand Paul. They will need a lot of help to block the 60 votes needed to clear cloture and get PIPA to the floor.

Public Knowledge games this out:

If 60 Senators do not vote yes on cloture, then Senators Wyden, Moran, Cantwell, and Paul will be allowed to continue to speak in opposition to PIPA forever. That being said, what would likely happen in the aftermath if PIPA fails to gain 60 yes votes is the bill is withdrawn and a compromise is negotiated. If no compromise is possible, then the bill officially dies [...]

It is also possible that PIPA never makes it to the January 24th vote, but that depends on the public weighing in with their U.S. Senators before they come back to Washington D.C. To begin countering the $94 million spent in lobbying in support of PIPA and SOPA, more than a million Americans have contacted Congress in opposition and citizen boycotts have forced corporations to withdraw their support of passage. Now Senators are home and away from the D.C. lobby, which is the perfect time for citizens to ask their Senators to voice their opposition to PIPA before they return to Washington D.C. If enough Senators publicly object to PIPA, then it is likely that consideration would be delayed in order to begin negotiating a compromise. So it is important that the public try to meet with their two Senators and their home state staff and inform them on where they stand and ask their Senators to represent the public interest by standing with them.

This is a major test for the grassroots coalition opposed to Internet censorship (background here and here). They have three weeks to turn the tide.