Washington -- The director of the U.S. Copyright Office says
that unless Congress continues to take serious steps to combat online piracy --
like the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) -- the nation's copyright
system cannot be sustained.
"I would like to be very clear at the outset," Register
of Copyrights Maria Pallante said in testimony prepared for the House Judiciary
Committee's Nov. 16 hearing on SOPA. "It is my view that if Congress does
not continue to provide serious responses to online piracy, the U.S. copyright
system will ultimately fail."
That panel's chairman, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), sponsored
the bill, which would give industry and government more tools to pursue and
potentially shut down websites belived to be trading in pirated content,
including TV shows and movies.
repeatedly acted to improve enforcement provisions in copyright law over the
years, including in the online environment," Pallante's testimony said. "SOPA
is the next step in ensuring that our law keeps pace with infringers."
She said the bill enlists all stakeholders in the crucial
task of protecting intellectual property.
"The response provided by SOPA is serious and
comprehensive," Pallante's testimony said. "It requires all key members of the
online ecosystem, including service providers, search engines, payment
processors, and advertising networks, to play a role in protecting copyright
interests -- an approach I endorse."
And while critics in
the computer industry argue the bill is overbroad, gives too much power to
copyright holders to damage online business on suspicion alone and could even
violate the FCC's network-neutrality rules by allowing an Internet-service
provider to cut off a site simply by claiming infringement, Pallante called the
She said it gives government much broader tools than
copyright owners, which she said was "a sound policy choice at this
Pallante said that the bill gives the Justice Department the
sole authority to seek court orders against search engines or ISPs. She said
she understands that some would prefer limiting the DOJ's power to severing
rogue sites relationships with ad networks and payment processors, a
"follow the money" approach to "starve" those sites.
But she said that would not be immediate relief,
particularly when the damage could be eminent - as with a live sports telecast or
sales of a pre-release film.
"My own view is that there will be times when blocking
access to websites may be the only quick and effective course of action and
that providing this tool to the attorney general is therefore a critical part
of the equation," she said.
Pallante said the bill does protect due process. She noted
that there are provisions requiring notice and an opportunity to respond before
a temporary restraining order is issued, except in extraordinary circumstances
of "immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage."
"Unlike the attorney general, copyright owners would
not be able to block domain names or websites or otherwise affect the
underpinnings of the Internet," she added.
SOPA also includes only injunctive relief -- shutting down a
site -- rather than monetary relief, so that it "limits the incentive for
copyright owners to overreach," she said.
Pallante's testimony also praised the bill for making the
illegal streaming of content a felony, as well as distributing an illegal
digital or hard copy. Currently, streaming illegal content is only a
misdemeanor. "This lack of parity neither reflects nor serves the
marketplace," she said, citing Hulu, ABC.com and HBO GO as examples of the
rise of streamed-content models.
Not all streaming is at issue, she said, but only willful
criminal activity that would not include innocent activity or "activity
that might legitimately be categorized as fair use."
Pallante said she believed that SOPA makes that distinction
clear, but said she would not be opposed to making it even more explicit if