Alternative US anti-piracy bill unveiled

US House of Representatives Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Senator Ron Wyden have published the text of their online piracy bill. The measure is aimed at offering an alternative to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act currently in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act closely resembles a discussion draft of the legislation circulated last week. It would authorise the International Trade Commission to issue cease-and-desist orders against foreign websites deemed rogue or dedicated to copyright infringement.

The proponents of the OPEN bill are seeking to address the perceived problems of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) championed by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and its Senate counterpart, the PROTECT IP Act. Those bills would allow the government and copyright holders to demand Web firms delete links to rogue sites. A number of major Internet interests, technology groups and rights bodies have raised concerns about the potential impact on free speech of the measures.

“Building on the International Trade Commission’s existing IP expertise and authority makes it possible to go after legitimate cases of IP abuse without doing irreparable harm to the Internet.  It also just makes sense,” said Senator Wyden.  “It is our hope that proponents of other approaches won’t just dismiss our proposal, but will instead take this opportunity to engage us on the substance.  Yes, IP infringement is a problem, but the Internet has become such an important part of our economy and our way of life that it is essential for us to get the policies that shape its future right.”

“Butchering the internet is not a way forward for America,” said Rep. Issa. “The OPEN Act empowers owners of intellectual property by targeting overseas infringers while protecting the rights of lawful Internet entrepreneurs and users.  The Internet is one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy, keeping it open is critical to job creation and our economic recovery.”

The OPEN Act would target only payment processors, online advertising networks and other sources of revenue for rogue sites. This ‘follow the money’ approach has been advocated by firms such as Google, which is one of the strongest opponents of SOPA.

The OPEN Act nevertheless may face a struggle to be passed, given the existing support of a number of influential House lawmakers for SOPA, but several Judiciary members are understood to have expressed serious concern about the latter since the technology industry began protesting the bill earlier this month.

Smith and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy have intimated they would be open to some fine-tuning of the bill, but they seem intent on proceeding with their measure, which has the support of TV and movie studios, as well as other industry groups.

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has criticised the proposed new wording, claiming it goes easy on Internet piracy. MPAA senior executive vice president for global policy and external affairs Michael O’Leary suggested the draft legislation falls far short of what is needed.

“The good news is that Congressman Issa and Senator Wyden recognise that doing nothing to stop foreign criminals who profit from stolen creative content and counterfeit goods on their websites is not an option. American jobs are being placed at risk and consumers can face serious dangers from counterfeit drugs and other products, so it is critical that action be taken by Congress,” he declared.

“The bad news is that this draft legislation fails to provide an effective way to target foreign rogue websites and goes easy on online piracy and counterfeiting. By changing the venue from our federal courts to the US International Trade Commission, it places copyright holders at a disadvantage and allows companies profiting from online piracy to advocate for foreign rogue websites against rightful American copyright holders. It even allows notification to some of these companies if they want to help advocate for rogue websites,” he claimed.

“We need action now to preserve American jobs and help grow our economy. Every day that we don’t act foreign rogue websites and companies profiting from these websites continue to reap financial gain at the expense of American jobs and Americans’ hard work, investment and ingenuity. Hopefully, this draft legislation is not just a delaying tactic to prevent Congress from acting quickly on this serious problem,” he said.

“The PROTECT IP Act, sponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy, Orrin Hatch and 38 others, and the Stop Online Piracy Act, sponsored by Representatives Lamar Smith, John Conyers and 28 others, offer measured, needed solutions to target online theft and counterfeiting by rogue websites. Few bills have this type of bipartisan support and the backing of businesses and labor groups. The draft legislation introduced by Congressman Issa and Senator Wyden goes far easier on the criminal enterprises operating these rogue websites than these two bills,” he concluded.

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