Film, TV groups urge Senate to pass anti-piracy bill

A coalition of US film and television companies has written to every member of the Senate, urging them to pass online piracy measure the PROTECT IP Act (short for Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011).

The letter was signed by the Motion Picture Association of America and its six member studios, the Independent Film & Television Alliance, the National Association of Theatre Owners and Deluxe Entertainment Services Group.

“We believe that the PROTECT IP Act provides much needed additional tools to combat digital theft, protect consumers, and help ensure a safer online marketplace in which legitimate businesses can flourish,” the groups wrote.

If passed, the PROTECT IP Act would give the Justice Department the authority to shut down websites “dedicated to” copyright or trademark infringement. However, Internet freedom advocates argue the measure would give the government too much power to censor websites.

Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, placed a hold on the bill in May, saying that he understood and agreed with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but was “not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective,” he said in a statement announcing his hold. “The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.”

The film and television groups dismissed this line of argument, suggesting that “Freedom of expression is not alone among the core values we must protect online, If we want the online environment to reach its fullest social and economic potential, the Internet cannot be lawless,” they declared.

They contended that the bill would give law enforcement new powers without infringing on anyone’s free speech rights, and pointed out that it focuses on websites primarily devoted to providing infringing content rather than directed at punishing people who accidentally infringe copyright law.

“The real threat to freedom of expression, to American innovation, and to robust economic growth comes when thieves are allowed to steal the products of our most creative people and companies without fear of laws or consequences,” the groups wrote.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, has said he plans to introduce a House version later in September.

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