Voluntary agreements to try to stop online piracy and counterfeiting, such as pledges by credit card companies to shun offenders, are working well even in the absence of legislation, White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel said on Wednesday.
But Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., says legislation is still needed.
The Senate anti-piracy bill known as the Protect IP Act and the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act were shelved in January after unprecedented protests from tech firms, Internet activists, civil libertarians and others who argued that the legislation would stifle innovation and free speech on the Internet. The White House also voiced concerns about the legislation’s potential effect on efforts to bolster the security of the Internet’s domain name system.
Espinel said lower-key efforts do work – including agreements with major payment processors such as Master Card and PayPal not to provide payment services to such sites and most recently a pledge last week by three advertising industry groups not to place ads on sites that offer pirated music, movies and other content or counterfeit goods.
Espinal said the administration is reaching out to foreign law enforcement officials to urge them to crack down on infringing sites and to foreign governments to pursue voluntary agreements with their own industry groups.
“This is global problem,” Espinel said. “It would be much more effective if it were not just U.S. companies involved but also companies focused overseas.”
Both Leahy and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said after the hearing that despite the controversy over the Protect IP Act, they still believe Congress needs to step in with legislation to fill in the gaps.
“Voluntary efforts are wonderful and I am hoping the voluntary efforts will give us some confidence for the legislation we need, because ultimately we still need legislation.” Leahy said.
Whitehouse, however, said he didn’t expect the issue would come up again until next year and that the committee would be occupied with cybersecurity legislation. In the meantime, he said he would like to see music and movie groups and others who supported Protect IP and SOPA work with critics of the legislation on finding a way forward.
“If I were the content people, I’d be working very hard to try to sort this out. It’s a technical problem within the Protect IP legislation that I think can be solved and they’re the ones who are the victims of massive crime every single day,” Whitehouse said.