Controversial US Bill Targeting “Rogue Websites” Introduced In US Congress

19 Mar

Legislation giving new powers to the government and copyright holders in the United States to unilaterally block payments to or take down websites deemed by US courts to be infringing intellectual property rights has been introduced into the House of Representatives. Now the policy fight begins.

The bipartisan bill, HR 3261, called the Stop Online Piracy Act, is available here. The bill is aimed at websites selling counterfeit and unauthorised content, often from abroad.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act on 16 November.

Predecessor bills have received steadfast support from industry and legislators drawn to the idea of stopping the onslaught of counterfeit products in the US market. But they have encountered significant opposition from those concerned that the bill will give excessive and possibly unconstitutional powers to government and the content industry that could harm individual freedoms and the openness of the internet.

Technology industry representatives this month made their concerns known about the Senate version, S. 968, the PROTECT-IP Act, introduced earlier this year (IPW, US Policy, 14 October 2011).

A recent opinion piece in Intellectual Property Watch addressed some of these issues and offered proposals (IPW, Inside Views, 18 October 2011).

The new bill was quickly applauded by the copyright industry, including the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, the US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, and the Institute for Policy Innovation based in Texas, whose President Tom Giovanetti published a recent paper. A main message of supporters is the protection of US jobs, and safety of US consumers.

Among those raising concern about the new bill are Public Knowledge, with an analysis here, Ars Technica, with a story here, and Harvard Law School Professor Yochai Benkler, who on a listserv called it a “really destructive trajectory”. Benkler’s piece in Daedalus [pdf] the predecessor Senate version called PROTECT-IP, and its predecessor, COICA.

The approach, he said he argued there, “begins to migrate the model of the financial arm of the “war on terror” onto the civilian side, doing in a systematic way what the administration and Lieberman did implicitly with the multi-system attack on Wikileaks.”

A group of law professors raised questions in July about the constitutionality of the predecessor PROTECT-IP Act.

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