Bill gives gov greater ability to fend off foreign websites

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has placed a hold on a piece of antipiracy legislation championed by Hollywood studios and guilds, arguing that it will “muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth.”

The legislation, dubbed the Protect IP Act, passed unanimously in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, winning praise from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a broad array of entertainment trade orgs and unions. The bill is aimed at increasing the federal government’s ability to choke off foreign websites dedicated to trafficking in infringing goods including movies, TV shows and music.

But Wyden said that “at the expense of legitimate commerce, (the bill’s) prescription takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet when a more balanced and targeted approach would be effective. The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.”

Digital rights groups and tech lobbies like the Consumer Electronics Assn. have also criticized the bill, particularly provisions that would, after the government obtains a court order, require that Internet service providers cut off the access to domain names of sites deemed as dedicated to selling counterfeit and infringing goods.

The legislation also allows the government to seek orders requiring that search engines, payment processors and ad firms take action to limit their support of so-called rogue sites.

Wyden also objects to a provision that allows private parties — like studios and record labels — to seek their own court action against domain names and websites as well as services like payment processors and ad firms that support the distribution of illegal and unauthorized content.

“Until the many issues that I and others have raised with this legislation are addressed, I will object to a unanimous consent request to proceed with the legislation,” Wyden said.

In a blog post, a spokesman for the MPAA noted that the legislation has bipartisan support and also the endorsement of noted First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams. “The truth couldn’t be clearer,” spokesman Howard Gantman wrote.

“Foreign-based rogue websites that steal or give away American movies, TV shows and other creative products endanger jobs, cut into our GDP and put the consumers who use them at risk of identity theft or fraud.”

Wyden also put a hold on similar legislation when it passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in a unanimous vote in November.

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