Lawmakers want power to shut down 'pirate sites'

In ambitious antipiracy bill, a group of U.S. senators want DOJ empowered to shut down sites it believes are guilty of piracy, even if they reside outside the country.

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read
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A group of senators want to hand the U.S. Department of Justice the power to shut down Web sites dedicated to the illegal sharing online of film, music, software, and other intellectual property.

"The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act will give the Department of Justice an expedited process for cracking down on these rogue Web sites regardless of whether the Web site's owner is located inside or outside of the United States," according to a statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and committee member Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah).

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 then request that the court issue an order finding that the domain name in question is dedicated to infringing activities. The Justice Department would have the authority to serve the accused site's U.S.-based registrar with an order to shut down the site.

According to a staffer from Leahy's office, if the site resides outside the United States, the bill would authorize "the attorney general to serve the court order on other specified third parties, such as Internet service providers, payment processors, and online ad network providers."

The way it sounds, the Justice Department would try to block these sites from being accessed by people in the United States or cut them off from credit card transactions or receiving ad revenue from U.S. companies.

This is one of the most ambitious attempts yet from the U.S. government to fight online piracy. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have pledged this year to help protect U.S. intellectual property. In June, Biden made headlines when he said: "Piracy is theft, clean and simple. It's smash and grab."

The proposed legislation comes after years of failed attempts by the United States to battle alleged pirate sites based overseas. None of those sites is more well-known than The Pirate Bay, a BitTorrent search engine whose three founders are from Scandinavia.

The site has managed to thwart numerous international efforts to shut it down.

If the bill passes, it could mark the most significant antipiracy victory for the film and music industries in quite awhile. The Motion Picture Association of America and The Recording Industry Association of America have tried lobbying ISPs to adopt policies that would culminate with a potential suspension or termination of service.

While some ISPs have agreed to implement such policies, some of the bigger companies, such as AT&T have refused to boot alleged illegal file sharers without a court order. Bob Pisano, interim CEO of the MPAA, applauded Leahy and his committee for combating "efforts to steal the lifeblood" of their industries.

Update 1 p.m. PT: Added information on the proposed legislation's handling of accused pirate sites that reside overseas.