Senators say bill targeting rogue websites will pass this year

The Hill
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee predicted at a hearing on Wednesday that Congress would pass a bill this year targeting websites that traffic in counterfeit or pirated goods.

“Copyright piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods are reported to cost the American economy billions of dollars annually and hundreds of thousands of lost jobs,” said Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who plans to introduce an updated version of the online piracy bill the committee passed last year.

“That is why inaction is not an option, and we must pass online infringement legislation in this Congress before rogue websites harm more businesses and result in more lost jobs.”

Leahy said he was convinced the bill would pass this year, but acknowledged that it had attracted criticism from people who said it doesn’t go far enough and some who worry the bill gives the Justice Department too much power to seize domain names without adequate oversight.

The chairman held Wednesday’s hearing at the request of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) to address some of the concerns. He pointed to the support of both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO as evidence of the broad coalition behind the bill.

Several of the witnesses expressed support for the legislation’s goals but suggested changes would be needed to prevent unintended consequences or abuses. They also raised questions of jurisdiction with regard to foreign sites, and suggested the bill should be more narrow in its focus.

Christine Jones, general counsel for the domain-name registrar GoDaddy, suggested the bill should focus more on hosting providers rather than domain name providers.

“The inclusion of hosting providers in the bill would clarify the role of Web hosts in disabling access to criminal websites with domain names over which the U.S. government cannot obtain jurisdiction,” Jones said.

Verizon deputy general counsel Thomas Dailey also argued the authorities conveyed in the bill are overly broad for international websites. He outlined a series of suggested changes that he argued would reduce the burden on Internet service providers and prevent any barriers to innovation.

Several advocacy groups, including TechNet, also submitted testimony expressing cautious support and suggesting changes to the legislation.

“TechNet supports the goal of protecting copyrighted material and preventing Internet users from downloading copyright protected material without compensating rights-holders,” said President Rey Ramsey.

“However, we believe the path taken in [the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act] to address this problem is broad in its approach, may raise technical difficulties in implementation and therefore could have harmful unintended consequences.“

Among those expressing their full support for the committee’s bill were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the movie industry, which also praised the Obama administration for cracking down on websites selling pirated goods.

“We believe that rogue sites legislation, combined with the administration’s work with intermediaries and enforcement by the [Intellectual Property Rights] Center, will go a long way toward shutting down the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works and close a gap in the intellectual property law,” said the Motion Picture Association of America in submitted testimony.
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