IP protection bill returns to Senate

US senators have re-introduced a bill aimed at giving US authorities more tools to crack down on websites selling pirated movies, television shows and music and counterfeit goods.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said the legislation would protect the investment American companies make in developing brands and creating content and protect the jobs associated with those investments. “The Protect IP Act targets the most egregious actors, and is an important first step to putting a stop to online piracy and sale of counterfeit goods,” he added.

A similar bill, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 19-0 vote in November but never made it to the Senate floor.

The new version of the bill designed to combat so-called ‘rogue websites’ has been renamed the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or Protect IP Act. It was introduced by Leahy and Republicans Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

The previous bill had been criticised by digital rights and free speech groups for paving the way for the authorities to shut down websites, including non-US websites, without due process.

One opponent of the bill, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said it was “no less dismayed by this most recent incarnation than we were with last year’s draft. While accepting that the bill attempted to “inject a little due process into the mix,” the EFF said it fell “far short of the mark given the potential implications of these actions for online speech.”

Ed Black, president and chief executive of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said the United States government should not be in the business of choosing what Internet content is acceptable and censoring that which it deems is not. “Meddling with Internet architecture to disappear sites and even hyperlinks to those sites is an Orwellian approach to law enforcement,” he stated, adding that, “technologically speaking, shutting down parts of the Internet, even for a seemingly good reason, is still censorship – no matter what new name you give it.”

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