New tack on piracy act

House Judiciary Committee introduces Stop Online Piracy Act

Leaders of the House Judiciary Committee introduced their long-awaited Stop Online Piracy Act on Wednesday, with support from a wide spectrum of Hollywood studio and labor, but opposition from tech companies.

The House’s version of a Senate bill is aimed at curbing websites devoted to selling infringing content like movies, TV shows and music, as well as choking off support of such ventures from payment processors, Internet providers, ad networks and search engines.

The Senate version of the bill passed the Judiciary Committee unanimously in May, but it was almost immediately stalled when Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), put a hold on the legislation.

The House version seems to have done little to stem opposition from tech companies such as Google and Yahoo, which are part of a group called the NetCoalition that called the legislation a “morass of legal and regulatory uncertainty which will compromise this vital sector of economic growth.” While the legislation has bipartisan support, there has been some effort to engage progressive groups like DemandProgress as well as Tea Party supporters in opposition.

The legislation would expand law enforcement authorities’ ability to seek injunctive relief against foreign websites that traffic in counterfeit goods.

The Senate version included a provision that would allow copyright holders to take their own action against sites, by requiring payment processors and ad networks to cut off support. Such a “private right of action” has been the source of much of the criticism from tech firms, which fear that they will face a rash of lawsuits.

The House version retains this but added another step, in which copyright holders have to first contact the payment processors and ad firms and give them time to take action. If not, then they can see injunctive relief in court.

The bill boasted a list of co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, including House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

Smith said the bill “helps stop the flow of revenue to rogue websites and ensures that the profits from American innovations go to American innovators.”

Nevertheless, the public interest org Center for Democracy and Technology’s David Sohn said that the House version “radically expands the scope” of the Senate legislation. Among other things, he’s concerned that it is still written too broadly, and that it includes a system of “domain name filtering,” which opponents have argued will upset the ecosystem of the Internet.

MPAA senior exec VP Michael O’Leary said much of the rhetoric from the opposition — labelling it as overregulation — is an “inside the Beltway trick.” “We are not overly concerned in how they mischaracterize this,” he said.

The House Judiciary Committee may hold a hearing in mid-November, and O’Leary is hopeful that the legislation will pass by the end of the year. “This is a bipartisan, bicameral effort to save American jobs,” he said.

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