Senate to try again on controversial antipiracy bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy intends to renew efforts to pass law this year that would give Department of Justice power to fight sites accused of dealing in pirated or counterfeit goods.

The U.S. Senate judiciary committee will take another crack at arming the government with broad antipiracy powers.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the judiciary committee's chairman, said today that the government must take action against "online criminals" who harm American jobs by obtaining the nation's intellectual property without paying for it. Leahy made the statements as he laid out the committee's agenda for this session of Congress.

In September, Leahy introduced legislation called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act , which could boast bipartisan support and unanimously passed in the judiciary committee, but failed to pass in the Senate before lawmakers left on winter break.

"Online infringement costs our national economy billions of dollars every year," Leahy said, according to a transcript of his speech. "Our intellectual property-based businesses are among the most productive in our economy and among its best employers. We cannot stand by and see them ravaged, and American consumers subjected to counterfeits. We will renew our effort this year."

Among the bill's supporters are the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the Recording Industry Association of America. Among the legislation's opponents are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Distributed Computing Industry Association, and American Civil Liberties Union, who say the bill is little more than censorship.

Under the proposed legislation, the Justice Department would file a civil action against accused pirate domain names. If the domain name resides in the U.S., the attorney general could request that the domain name in question be seized.

The bill would also authorize the attorney general to order other specified third parties, such as Internet service providers, payment processors, and online ad network providers, to take action against pirate sites. For example, ISPs could be ordered to block access in this country to file-sharing sites based overseas or order Visa to stop taking processing transactions from the sites.

The legislation's supporters in the entertainment industry say its introduction has already produced benefits. Last month, CNET reported that Mastercard was willing to stop processing transactions from sites trafficking in pirated music, movies, games, and other digital copyrighted content and would support Leahy's bill.

Meanwhile, others have been less than supportive. The major ISPs have yet to weigh in on the issue but some executives from the sector have told me they are skeptical of Leahy's chances at getting his bill passed anytime soon.

Correction on January 12: This story incorrectly stated how the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act failed to pass in the U.S. Senate. It was held up by opposition from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

 

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