House Judiciary leaders introduce online piracy bill
By Colin Mann

A bipartisan group of US House lawmakers has introduced legislation aimed at curbing online piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites, following the May 2011 introduction of similar legislation by the Senate.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas) along with ranking member John Conyers (Democrat, Michigan) and Bob Goodlatte (Republican, Virginia), Chairman of the Judiciary Intellectual Property Subcommittee, introduced the legislation after months of negotiations with stakeholders. The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill on November 16.

“The online thieves who run these foreign websites are out of the reach of US law enforcement agencies and profit from selling pirated goods without any legal consequences,” said Smith. “The Stop Online Piracy Act helps stop the flow of revenue to rogue websites and ensures that the profits from American innovations go to American innovators.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee in May approved its own legislation – the Protect IP Act – also aimed at combating online piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites. That bill has been criticised by some technology groups, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, privacy and civil liberty advocates, and others who argue it would undermine the integrity of the Internet’s domain-name system and also hamper innovation and free-speech rights.

Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, which represents Bloomberg, Google, Yahoo, and others, said the bill did “very little to address its purported goal to combat offshore ‘rogue’ websites and commercial piracy.”

The House bill would authorise the US Attorney General to seek a court order to require a service provider to take “technically feasible and reasonable measures” to prevent access to an infringing site by an Internet user in the United States.

The Attorney General would also be to seek a similar order directed at search engines such as Google or Microsoft’s Bing, requiring them to block access to infringing sites via a direct hypertext link in their search results. The court order also could require payment processors, such as credit card companies, and online advertising providers to stop doing business with infringing foreign sites.

The House measure – unlike the Senate bill – would not give intellectual-property owners the right to sue third parties to get them to stop doing business with an infringing site. Under the House bill, intellectual-property owners would be required to first seek voluntary action from payment processors and advertisers. If they fail to act voluntarily, intellectual-property owners could then seek relief in court.

Mitch Glazier, senior executive vice president for the Recording Industry Association of America, said the bill was not “a panacea that’ll fix all our problems. But it’s one more tool.”

The US Chamber of Commerce, which has organised a broad coalition of businesses, industry groups, and labour unions to push for legislation, praised the proposed legislation. “While rogue sites pose a unique set of challenges, legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act introduced today offer clear, tailored enforcement tools to effectively root them out,” Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue said. “The US Chamber looks forward to working with the broad coalition of businesses of every size and shape, and organised labour to support members of the House and Senate and ensure that rogue sites legislation is enacted this year.”