The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday unanimously approved the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, a bipartisan bill that would give the Justice Department more power to shut down Web sites that illegally stream or sell TV shows and movies.
That move immediately drew the praise of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Hollywood studios concerned about online piracy of their product.
"We applaud chairman Leahy and the Senate Judiciary Committee for advancing the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, important legislation that will empower the Department of Justice to crack down on websites which illegally provide access to valuable copyrighted video content," said NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow. "Online piracy and the distribution of illegal content are significant problems that harm America's content industry and consumers. We look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Leahy and the other members of the Committee to improve this legislation as it moves through the Senate."
The bill would give Justice more power to pull the plug on U.S. sites it found to be offering "infringing content" by suspending the domain name of the offender.
For sites based outside the U.S., Justice would be able to serve an infringement court order on ISPs and ad network providers requiring them to stop doing business with the website, by, among other things, "blocking online access to the rogue site or not processing the website's purchases." But it would also include protections against possible overreach, including allowing only the Justice Department to initiate an action against an infringing site, and giving a federal court the final say on whether a domain would be suspended and the site operator the right to petition to have the order lifted.
"It will take a strong, sustained effort to stop Internet thieves and profiteers," said MPAA president Bob Paisano. "We believe that Congress and the Administration can make a significant contribution to that effort by turning the Leahy-Hatch bill into law and giving law enforcement significantly enhanced tools for addressing a threat that deprives American innovators of the fruits of their labors and menaces our nation's economic health."
MPAA argues that "rogue" video sites threatens the livelihoods of more than 2.4 million middle class jobs in the TV and film industry.
Protecting online TV streaming sites will become increasingly important as broadband becomes a larger portion of the content delivery chain.
"We are disappointed that the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning chose to disregard the concerns of public-interest groups, Internet engineers, Internet companies, human-rights groups and law professors in approving a bill that could do great harm to the public and to the Internet," said Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn. "PK is a fair use lobby that is concerned about overprotection of content to the detriment of legitimate uses. "We look forward to working with the Committee next year to craft a more narrowly tailored bill that deals with the question of rogue Web sites."
Putting an exclamation point on the jobs issue was an alliance of unions comprising the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the and Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
"Our four guilds and unions commend the Senate Judiciary Committee for unanimously reporting S.3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, and recommending the bill for consideration and passage by the full Senate," they said in statement. "The bill will give U.S law enforcement agencies more effective tools to fight the foreign profiteers who threaten our member's livelihoods by trafficking in stolen content."
That is more than 300,000 members, they point out. "The forsaken jobs and looted revenues that are so casually disregarded by both the operators of rogue sites and those who seek to protect their illegal activity reflect real wages, residuals, benefits and opportunities lost to our members forever thanks to those who knowingly and purposely traffic in Internet theft." the unions said.