The House introduced a bill this week that would give authorities greater powers to take down rogue websites that provide pirated content, including sites based outside of the United States. The bill has drawn sharp criticism from privacy groups.
The Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced on Wednesday by Republican Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, is a House version of a bill introduced in the Senate, known as the Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or Protect IP Act, which likewise has been panned by privacy groups.
If passed, the measure would allow the Justice Department to obtain court orders demanding “foreign infringing” Internet service providers (ISP) to block access to the site for users in the United States, according to a draft of the bill.
It would also give a U.S.-based copyright holder the ability to tell a payment processor including credit card companies or Internet advertisers to stop their business with a website that may be providing pirated content that infringes on copyrights or trademarks.
Intellectual property theft is said to cost the U.S. economy more than $100 billion each year while costing thousands of American jobs.
With overseas rogue websites stealing the intellectual properties of Americans, Smith said the bill aims to stop revenue to these sites and protect U.S. citizens “from dangerous counterfeit products.” He added that it “prevents online thieves from selling counterfeit goods” domestically as well.
The measure was backed by a number of prominent entertainment companies, the music industry, the movie industry, the Business Software Alliance, and the National Association of Manufacturers.
Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman, who supports the proposed bill, said Americans “face an increasingly difficult battle against entities overseas that shamelessly steal our valuable products and illegally market them online for their own gain,” according to a statement.
The bill is not without its critics, however, as privacy as well as consumer advocacy groups have said it gives the U.S. government too much power.
Responding to the measure’s introduction, Corynne McSherry, the Intellectual Property director with prominent digital rights advocacy group Electronic Freedom Frontier, wrote Wednesday that its passage would amount to “massive interference with the Internet.”
The Stop Online Piracy Act “would not only sabotage the domain name system but would also threaten to effectively eliminate the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) safe harbors that, while imperfect, have spurred much economic growth and online creativity,” she added.
Worse, the bill would force ISPs to actively police its users’ activities and would essentially circumvent DMCA rules.
David Sohn, the senior policy counsel and director at the Center for Democracy and Technology, writes on Thursday that the measure “casts a dangerously broad net,” while conceding that piracy is a major concern for U.S. copyright holders.
He echoed statements made by McSherry in saying that it goes against the legal principles “embedded in the DMCA,” which would “pose major risks for online innovation, free expression, and the open nature of the Internet.”The Senate version of the bill, the Protect IP Act, passed the Judiciary Committee in May but eventually stalled after it was argued that it would infringe upon free speech.