The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved legislation on Thursday aimed at cracking down on foreign websites that offer pirated content and counterfeit products.
Cramped in an ornate meeting room off the Senate chamber, the panel approved the bill by voice vote after little discussion.
The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PROTECT IP Act, would authorize the Justice Department to file civil actions to stop websites accused of offering pirated content or counterfeit goods.
It would allow U.S. authorities to order U.S.-based third parties, such as Internet service providers, search engines, advertisers, and payment processors, to stop doing business with the websites.
The committee approved an amendment offered by Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that would allow the Homeland Security Department’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement to share information about counterfeit products it seizes with the companies whose products have been illegally copied.
Movie studios, record companies, and other content creators strongly support the bill.
“The websites targeted by this legislation are draining income from American businesses and misleading consumers with their unregulated, unlicensed, and unsafe practices," Copyright Alliance Executive Director Sandra Aistars said in a statement.
"This bill provides much-needed tools for law enforcement to do its job, and we urge the full Senate to consider it in the very near future,” added Aistars, whose alliance includes the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers; the Motion Picture Association of America; and Universal Music Group.
Some tech and public-interest groups have raised concerns about the measure. They strongly opposed a version approved last year by the Judiciary Committee that would have allowed the Justice Department to seek a court order to seize the domain names of websites offering pirated content or counterfeit goods. The latest version does not focus on domain-name seizures.
Since last summer, U.S. authorities have been using existing laws to shut down U.S.-based or -registered websites engaged in piracy or counterfeiting. Federal authorities announced their fifth enforcement action on Wednesday, which resulted in the seizure of five domain names belonging to websites accused of offering pirated content or counterfeit goods.
“The new legislation maintains the provision to direct Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and others to interfere with Domain Name System (DNS) lookup services by tampering with their DNS responses," the American Library Association, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Public Knowledge, and others said in a letter sent on Wednesday.
"We continue to believe that such a provision would be ineffective and runs contrary to the U.S. government’s commitment to advancing a single, global Internet."
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., praised the changes made to the latest version of the bill but said he hoped that more could be done to narrowly target the actions take by ISPs and others to block access to illegal content. “When there is a reasonable and technically feasible way to narrow the scope of a blocking order, we should be going that route so we don’t inadvertently block legitimate speech,” he said.
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