During a presidential debate on Thursday night, all four Republican candidates denounced pending legislation aimed at combating online piracy. Their responses came in the midst of mass congressional defections, especially among Republicans, as major websites protest the bills.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate companion, the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), would give the Justice Department expansive powers to shut down sites that host content infringing on American intellectual property laws. While most of the bills’ opponents acknowledge the need for IP enforcement, they argue that its powers are too broad, and would be both ineffective and constitutionally problematic.

In response to the overwhelming criticism of the legislation and the nearly 20 Senators who have dropped their support for it this week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced on Friday that he was postponing consideration of the bill.

Republican presidential candidates, though, took a crack at the legislation on Thursday night. Not one of the four remaining candidates said he supported it.

“You have virtually everybody who’s technologically advanced including Google and YouTube and Facebook and all the folks who say this is going to totally mess up the Internet and the bill in its current form is written badly and leads to a range of censorship that is totally unacceptable,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney associated himself with Gingrich’s remarks. “The law as written is far too intrusive, far too expensive, far too threatening to freedom of speech and movement of information across the Internet,” he insisted. Romney added that the legislation could adversely impact the technology sector, a very dynamic section of the American economy.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul was the first House Republican to publicly oppose SOPA, and he made sure to tout that fact at the debate. “Republicans unfortunately have been on the wrong side of this issue,” he insisted, adding, “Freedom and the constitution bring factions together. I think this is a good example.”

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum also said he opposed the bill, but he was more cautious than his opponents. “The Internet is not a free zone where anybody can do anything they want,” he insisted, stressing the importance of the enforcing intellectual property laws already on the books.

For more info on SOPA/PIPA check out the latest edition of Scribecast, and Heritage regulatory policy expert James Gattuso’s work on the issue.