A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced long-awaited legislation on Wednesday to curb online piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, along with ranking member John Conyers, D-Mich., and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the Judiciary Intellectual Property Subcommittee, introduced the legislation after months of negotiations with stakeholders. The Judiciary Committee scheduled a hearing on the bill on Nov. 16.
“The online thieves who run these foreign websites are out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement agencies and profit from selling pirated goods without any legal consequences,” Smith said in a statement. “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, known as the Protect IP Act. It is also aimed at combating online piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites. That bill has been roundly criticized by some tech groups, venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, privacy and civil liberty advocates, and others who say it would undermine the integrity of the Internet’s domain-name system and also hamper innovation and free-speech rights.
Smith said recently that he was trying to address such concerns but he appears to have fallen short.
Markham Erickson, executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, which represents Bloomberg, Google, Yahoo, and others, said the bill “unfortunately does very little to address its purported goal to combat offshore ‘rogue’ websites and commercial piracy."
"This bill will regulate the Internet. It will reverse decades of federal policies that have made the U.S. Internet industry so successful, innovative, and a cornerstone of U.S. competitiveness,” Erickson said.
The House bill would authorize the U.S. 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.
It also would allow the attorney general 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.
Unlike the Senate bill, the House measure 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.
“It’s not a panacea that’ll fix all our problems. But it’s one more tool," Mitch Glazier, senior executive vice president for the Recording Industry Association of America, said on Wednesday during a discussion on Internet piracy sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. "We very much look forward to this tool. We need it.”
Several other groups also praised the bill, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has organized a broad coalition of businesses, industry groups, and labor unions to push for 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 in a statement. “The U.S. Chamber looks forward to working with the broad coalition of businesses of every size and shape, and organized labor to support members of the House and Senate and ensure that rogue sites legislation is enacted this year.”