House bill would attack online piracy, 'rogue websites'

A bipartisan group of House lawmakers has introduced a bill to protect the intellectual property of U.S. citizens and companies by making service providers responsible for blocking access in this country to offending sites.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261) is the House companion to the Protect IP Act (S.968), which was introduced in the Senate in May. The House version also would increase criminal penalties for piracy and industrial espionage as well as for trafficking in harmful or counterfeit medications and military equipment. It has been referred to the House Judiciary subcommittee on Intellectual Property.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a sponsor of the bill, said it would protect U.S. economic and physical well-being by effectively cutting foreign violators off from the U.S. market.

“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,” Smith said in a statement introducing the bill. “The bill prevents online thieves from selling counterfeit goods in the U.S., expands international protections for intellectual property, and protects American consumers from dangerous counterfeit products.”

Critics characterize the bill as an attack on Internet freedom for the benefit of business interests. David Segal, director of the group Demand Progress, which has mounted an e-mail campaign against the bill, called it a “grab-bag of Halloween goodies for a handful of big corporations.”

The bill would allow the attorney general to obtain court orders blocking foreign sites or addresses found to violate U.S. copyright laws. Since these foreign sites are effectively beyond the reach of U.S. courts or law enforcement, enforcement would be done in the U.S. by Internet service providers, search engine operators, and providers of payment and advertising services.

Under the bill, “a service provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures designed to prevent access by its subscribers located within the United States to the foreign infringing site that is subject to the order, including measures designed to prevent the domain name of the foreign infringing site from resolving to that domain name’s Internet Protocol address.”

Search engines would be forbidden to serve links to the offending sites, payment companies could not process payments to them, and advertising companies could not provide ads to or for the sites.

The bill also would provide immunity for service providers that voluntarily take action against sites “in the reasonable belief” that they are violating U.S. laws.

The bill also would criminalize any copying or distribution for commercial purposes of copyrighted material with a value of $1,000 or more. Critics, including Demand Progress, allege that these provisions would make online distributors of user-generated content such as Twitter and YouTube criminally liable for any misuse of protected material by users.

The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the act for Nov. 16.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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