US Lawmakers Want to Quash Pirate Websites

United States lawmakers have proposed new legislation today that would allow the Department of Justice to take over domain names of websites that promote copyright infringement. The proposed bill would allow for court orders against domestic as well as foreign sites, which could potentially shutter many torrent sites including The Pirate Bay.

Earlier this year the Obama administration declared war on Internet piracy and counterfeiting. “Piracy is theft, clean and simple,” Vice President Joe Biden said when he announced the Joint Strategic Plan to combat intellectual property theft.

A week later the U.S. Government took action against nine websites suspected of promoting copyright infringement by seizing their domains. The targets were mostly movie streaming sites, but it later became apparent the The Pirate Bay and MegaUpload had also been considered. They have escaped for now.

Taking the domains of suspected sites has proven to be a highly effective tool to shut down sites that are considered illegal, and today a group of US senators proposed legislation to make this a standard procedure.

If signed into law, the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (pdf via TL) would allow the Department of Justice to file a civil lawsuit against the domain owners. If the courts decide that a site is indeed promoting copyright infringement, the DOJ can order the domain registrar to take the domain offline.

“The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act will give the Department of Justice an expedited process for cracking down on these rogue Web sites regardless of whether the Web site’s owner is located inside or outside of the United States,” Senator Orin Hatch said.

According to Senator Hatch the new legislation is needed because the Internet has “become a tool for online thieves to sell counterfeit and pirated goods, making hundreds of millions of dollars off of stolen American intellectual property.” When and if the proposed legislation will be signed into law will be decided later.

Aside from the classic ‘pirate’ websites the proposed bill can be an effective tool to take the whistleblower site Wikileaks offline, the domain at least. After all, Wikileaks posted thousands of files that are owned by the United States.

If the proposal is accepted it will change the Internet and how domain names are controlled for good. Thus far, no central Government has the power to take over domains. This power belongs exclusively to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

As if he saw it coming, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom already warned against the legislation that was proposed by US senators today.

“If governance were to become the exclusive province of nation states or captured by any other interests, we would lose the foundation of the Internet’s long-term potential and transformative value,” Beckstrom said last week.

The other interests would be those of the movie studios and record labels in this case.

The MPAA has already applauded the introduction of the bill and offered their full cooperation. “In the coming weeks, we look forward to working with Chairman Leahy and the Senate and House committees to help strengthen the bill,” MPAA’s Bob Pisano said.

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