Piracy bill gains steam

Pols support affected studios, labels

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee vowed Wednesday to pursue legislation sought by studios, music labels and others to battle piracy on the Internet.

Resuming work on an issue that enjoys strong bipartisan support, panel chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged affected industry parties to help resolve potential weaknesses in a bill that would combat online infringement and counterfeiting. The measure, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, won unanimous approval by the panel last fall, but was not voted on by the full Senate. Leahy reminded participants at a committee hearing that an estimated 24 percent of all Internet traffic involves material infringing on intellectual property, from bogus auto parts and pharmaceuticals to pirated films, music and books. A former prosecutor, Leahy said he is convinced that Congress will approve legislation this year.

The bill, which Leahy is expected to reintroduce in the not too distant future, would enable the Department of Justice to track and shut down websites that provide access to unauthorized downloads, streaming or sale of copyrighted content and counterfeit goods. For websites located outside the U.S., the Justice Department could seek a federal court injunction against domain registrars.

Efforts to broaden the bill to allow private law suits have prompted complaints that it would unfairly burden credit card companies and other legitimate players.A hearing on the topic Wednesday heard reps from a variety of impacted organizations applaud the lawmakers for their action while airing some concerns. They included IP holders Rosetta Stone and the Authors Guild, domain registrar Go Daddy, service provider Verizon and credit card issuer Visa.

Conspicuously absent from the gathering were reps from search engines Google and Yahoo, who declined invitations to appear. The no-shows brought criticism from lawmakers including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who threatened to subpoena answers to questions from search engine giant Google.Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who earlier this week was named chairman of a new Judiciary subcommittee on Web privacy issues, acknowledged that shutting down infringing sites can be complicated. But results have already been achieved in battling child pornography sites and others by “following the money trail,” he said.

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