House Introduces Controversial Anti-Piracy Act

Wed Oct 26, 2011 11:43am EDT

The House Judiciary Committee unveiled new legislation Wednesday designed to crack down on online piracy.

The proposed legislation would grant the federal government broad powers to cripple websites that host illegal content.

Labelled the Stop Online Piracy Act, the bill would allow content creators and the government to effectively shut down websites they claim are violating copyright laws by pulling ads and disabling their credit card processors.

Also read: Anti-Piracy Bill Passes Committee; Senator's Objections May Derail It

It also allows the Attorney General to seek injunctions against foreign websites that traffic in pirated U.S. movies and television shows.

Copyright groups and content creators hailed the proposal as an important means to safeguard intellectual property rights, but consumer advocacy groups warned that the punishments dictated by the new legislation were overly harsh.

"There is no need for a bill this sweeping and this Draconian,” Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “There are simple, easily implemented solutions on which industry and others agree -- such as cutting off the ability of credit-card companies to fulfill payments to sites that traffic in copyright infringement.”

In an opinion piece on Forbes, Consumer Electronics Association President and CEO Gary Shapiro echoed Sohn's concerns, writing Wednesday that the legislation is so expansive it threatens legitimate web retailers. 

"... the bill is so broadly written that, in theory, it would allow any copyright owner to shut down a legitimate retail website, such as Amazon or Best Buy, by alleging that one product being sold on the site could 'enable or facilitate' an infringement," Shapiro wrote. 

Yet, the bill received a rapturous response from the business community and some big-name support in the entertainment industry.

“Our creative industries provide good jobs for millions of Americans and represent one of the country’s most important exports. However, we face an increasingly difficult battle against entities overseas that shamelessly steal our valuable products and illegally market them online for their own gain,” Philippe Dauman, Viacom president and CEO said in a statement. “[The bill] provides the Department of Justice and rights holders critical tools to ensure that the creative work of Americans across the country is protected from offshore internet parasites.”

“Websites that blatantly steal the creativity and innovation of American industries violate a fundamental right to property,” Thomas J. Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber, said in a statement. “Operators of rogue sites threaten American jobs, endanger consumer safety, and undermine the vitality of the online marketplace. I commend Representatives Smith, Goodlatte, Conyers, and Berman for standing up to the mass theft of American intellectual property.”

House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced the bill along with committee members Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

It is similar to the PROTECT IP Act, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last May, but stalled after Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Oregon) placed a hold on the bill. Wyden argued that the bill infringed on free speech and would discourage innovation.

Even though Hollywood and its top lobbyist, MPAA chief Chris Dodd, have launched a full on assault on lawmakers to get tough on piracy, discomfort within the technology industry will likely mean that the new legislation will face a fierce battle before it becomes law.  

Related Articles:  Chris Dodd Tells CinemaCon: 'I'm a Piracy Fighter' Anti-Piracy Bill Passes Committee; Senator's Objections May Derail It