Senate panel unanimously passes PROTECT IP Act to crack down on online piracy websites

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, May 26, 2011 16:49 EDT
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Senator Wyden announces hold on the motion to proceed to the bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted Thursday to approve legislation to give U.S. officials the power to order search engines and Internet service providers to block websites hosting pirated movies, television shows and music and selling counterfeit goods.

“Copyright infringement and the sale of counterfeit goods can cost American businesses billions of dollars, and result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs,” Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “Protecting intellectual property is not uniquely a Democratic or Republican priority – it is a bipartisan priority.”

The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act — or “PROTECT IP” for short is part of a second attempt to pass provisions of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which failed to clear Congress during its last session thanks to a parliamentary maneuver by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Wyden said he would once again try to kill the legislation if the issues raised by himself and others were not addressed. He placed a hold on the bill Thursday afternoon.

“I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective,” Wyden said in a statement.

“The Internet represents the shipping lane of the 21st century. It is increasingly in America’s economic interest to ensure that the Internet is a viable means for American innovation, commerce, and the advancement of our ideals that empower people all around the world.”

The PROTECT IP Act authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to serve court orders to search engines, payment processors, advertising networks, and Internet service providers involved with websites that are “dedicated to infringing activities.”

In a statement released Thursday, Leahy’s office said the legislation allows for the Attorney General and copyright holders to bring actions against online infringers, but only actions limited to eliminating the financial viability of the site, not blocking access. In addition, it requires any potential plaintiff to first attempt to bring an action against the owner of the domain name before bringing action against the domain name itself.

Internet freedom advocates claim the bill could be used to shut down websites that link to other websites that authorities claim to be carrying out infringing activities. The Electronic Frontier Foundation said it was “no less dismayed by this most recent incarnation than we were with last year’s draft.”

“The effort to inject a little due process into the mix is a good step, but it falls far short of the mark given the potential implications of these actions for online speech,” the EFF added. “We’re still chewing through the issues, but on balance, it’s clear PROTECT IP is no improvement on COICA.”

The PROTECT IP Act is supported by businesses and organizations across the political spectrum, according to Leahy’s statement, from labor unions to the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, from the National Association of Broadcasters to the cable industry.

With prior reporting by Stephen C. Webster

Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan
Eric W. Dolan has served as an editor for Raw Story since August 2010, and is based out of Sacramento, California. He grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and received a Bachelor of Science from Bradley University. Eric is also the publisher and editor of PsyPost. You can follow him on Twitter @ewdolan.
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