Next steps: Senate debate, House version

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed an antipiracy bill on Thursday aimed at shutting down and choking support to websites dedicated to trafficking in infringing goods, including movies, music and TV shows.

The Protect IP Act, as it is called, now awaits the full Senate’s deliberation. A similar version of the legislation is expected to be introduced soon in the House.

Bill would would authorize the Justice Department to seek a court order directing third parties — search engines, payment processors, advertising networks and Internet providers — to cease providing transactions and support to overseas sites engaged in online infringement.

Copyright holders also would be given a “right of action” to seek their own court order against domain names and sites, and to choke off the flow of money from payment processors and ad services.

Amendments were added to the bill that allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to share information with copyright holders regarding products seized by customs or border officials they suspect to be infringing material.

“Our legislation is intended to protect the investment American companies make in developing brands and creating content, and will protect the jobs associated with those investments,” said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a co-author of the bill.

The legislation has widespread support across Hollywood’s content community, including the motion picture and recording industry lobby as well as various guilds and unions, as well as the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Microsoft also announced its support Wednesday, with general counsel Brad Smith writing in a blog post that “because piracy harms not only the rights owner, but our economy more broadly, it is reasonable to expect responsible companies to step up.”

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, however, expressed opposition to the bill last week, and a coalition of public-interest organizations and digital rights groups sent a letter to Leahy and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) expressing concerns over a provision in which Internet providers would be directed to interfere with domain-name systems. The groups, including Public Knowledge and the Center for Democracy and Technology, also said they fear that the bill’s definition of a “search engine” as “information location tools” is too broad and “makes nearly every actor on the Internet potentially subject to enforcement orders under the bill, raising new policy questions regarding government interference with online activity and speech.”

The industry has gone to lengths to cast the bill as a jobs issue, countering perceptions that piracy is a victimless crime worrisome only to well-heeled entertainment elites.

A coalition of industry groups, including the American Federation of Musicians, AFTRA, the DGA, IATSE, the Teamsters and SAG, released a statement praising the vote. “This bill clearly goes after illegal sites; legitimate and law-abiding websites are not the target and we would hope that those who advocate against either of these bills are not condoning illegal activity on the Internet any more than they would condone illegal activity in their bank or grocery store,” they said.

Michael O’Leary, exec VP of government affairs for the MPAA, said, “By helping shut down rogue websites that profit from stolen films, television shows and other counterfeit goods, this legislation will protect wages and benefits for the millions of middle class workers who bring America’s creativity to life.”

Also on Thursday, the Congressional Anti-Piracy Caucus announced that they intended to send letters to advertisers who continue to place ads on sites that sell pirated goods.

Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, said the org believes that many of the companies aren’t aware that their “ad buys are funding criminal enterprises.” The intent is to move “closer to an Internet environment where pirate sites specializing in ripping off American consumers and brands are starved out of business.”

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