Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., reintroduced legislation on Thursday aimed at curbing online piracy and counterfeiting, particularly from websites based offshore.
The legislation is a modified version of a bill Leahy and a bipartisan group of senators offered last year that was unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., blocked the bill, however, because he said it would stifle free speech and innovation.
The new bill would allow the Justice Department to file a civil action against those who have registered or own a domain name linked to an infringing website.
Justice could seek an order against U.S.-based third parties, such as an Internet service provider, search engine, or payment processor, requiring them to block websites engaged in piracy or those that offer counterfeit products.
Internet engineers, some tech companies, and privacy advocates strongly criticized last year's bill for focusing on the seizure of domain names.
The new bill, cosponsored by Judiciary ranking member Charles Grassley of Iowa, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and others, appears to have widened the focus to include anyone who does business with a site primarily engaged in infringing activities.
It also narrowed the definition of a rogue website to target the worst offenders. In a key change from last year’s bill, it does not authorize the Justice Department to target domain names registered by a U.S. entity.
However, federal authorities have been using other laws already on the books to target U.S.-based domain names in the last year, targeting online sites that engage in piracy or counterfeiting.
NBC Universal Executive Vice President Rick Cotton said in a conference call on the bill that the Homeland Security Department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has demonstrated it already has enforcement tools to get at U.S.-based sites or sites registered with a U.S.-based domain name provider.
Leahy has not given a date for marking up the bill but said that it would be soon. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said in a statement that he plans to introduce similar legislation in the “coming weeks.”
Content creators support the bill, saying that online infringement is growing rapidly and costs them billions in lost sales.
“American music is repeatedly stolen online every day, yet current laws have not kept pace with criminal enterprises that set up rogue websites overseas to escape accountability,” Recording Industry Association of America Chairman and CEO Mitch Bainwol said in a statement.
The software industry has also been hit hard by piracy. On Thursday, the Business Software Alliance released its eighth annual study on software piracy. It found an estimated $59 billion in software was illegally installed on computers around the world in 2010. “The numbers show we are being robbed blind,” alliance President Robert Holleyman said in an interview.
Despite the broad support from the content industries, some of the groups that opposed Leahy’s bill last year have strong reservations with the latest measure.
"We are still concerned, however, that the legislation continues to feature domain-name-blocking strategies that won’t work and risk a variety of collateral consequences,” the Center for Democracy and Technology's David Sohn said in a statement. “A more focused ‘follow the money’ approach, relying on the remedies that aim to dry up the financial lifeblood of infringement sites, would ultimately be more effective and less controversial."
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