‘Rogue’ Websites Targeted in Bill Passed by U.S. Senate Panel

Legislation aimed at combating “rogue” websites that sell pirated content won unanimous approval from a U.S. Senate panel before being blocked by a senator opposed to certain provisions in the bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the measure, called the Protect IP Act, which targets websites “dedicated to infringing activities,” including the sale of illegally copied music, movies, pharmaceuticals and consumer products.

The measure, S.968, would allow the U.S. attorney general to seek court orders requiring U.S.-based search engines to stop providing links to infringing sites. Internet-service providers also would be called on to block access to infringing sites, and payment processors and online advertising networks would be required to stop doing business with such sites.

“Copyright infringement and the sale of counterfeit goods can cost American businesses billions of dollars, and result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy introduced the bill May 12 with Republican Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Within hours of the committee’s vote, Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, said he would use a procedural move to block the measure from reaching a vote in the full Senate, saying it “takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet.” In December, Wyden placed a hold on a similar anti-piracy bill.

‘Real Concerns’

Google Inc. (GOOG), which operates the world’s largest search engine, said it has “real concerns” with the legislation.

“We support the goal of the bill but we have real concerns about some provisions,” including the impact that blocking access to websites would have on free expression, Google spokeswoman Mistique Cano said in a statement.

“We look forward to working with Congress to make sure the Protect IP Act can target sites dedicated to piracy while protecting free expression and legitimate sites,” Cano said.

Google, Yahoo Inc., EBay Inc. (EBAY), Visa Inc. (V) and American Express Co. (AXP) sent a letter to Leahy and Grassley on May 25 objecting to a provision that would allow trademark or copyright holders to take legal action against a domain name associated with an infringing website. The companies said it would lead to a “new litigation industry.”

The bill has the support of other business and trade groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Software Alliance and the Motion Picture Association of America.

“Today’s vote serves as a wakeup call to those who illicitly profit at the expense of American businesses and consumers,” David Hirschmann, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s intellectual property center, said in a statement. “The U.S. will not tolerate your careless, reckless, malicious behavior.”

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