The U.S. Government continues to back legislation that opens the door to unprecedented Internet censorship.
Two weeks ago a group of U.S. senators proposed legislation to make it easier to crack down on so-called rogue websites, and today the Senate’s Judicial Committee unanimously approved the bill.
When the PROTECT IP Act becomes law the authorities can legitimately seize any domain name they deem to be facilitating copyright infringement. All that’s required to do so is a preliminary order from the court. But that’s just the start, the bill in fact provides a broad range of censorship tools.
In case a domain is not registered or controlled by a U.S. company, the authorities can also order search engines to remove the website from its search results, order ISPs to block the website, and order ad-networks and payment processors to stop providing services to the website in question.
Backers of the bill argue that the PROTECT IP Act is needed as an extension of the already controversial domain seizures. As reported previously, it is now relatively easy for a seized website to continue operating under a new non-US based domain name.
Not everyone agrees with this stance. Yesterday several Internet giants including Google, Yahoo, eBay and American Express asked the Senate Committee not to adopt the bill, warning it would “undoubtedly inhibit innovation and economic growth.”
However, the concerns raised by the companies did not affect the vote today.
“Today the Judiciary Committee took an important step in protecting online intellectual property rights. The Internet is not a lawless free-for-all where anything goes,” commented Senator Orrin Hatch. “The Constitution protects both property and speech, both online and off.”
“The PROTECT IP Act targets the most egregious actors, and is an important first step to putting a stop to online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods,” Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said commenting on the importance of the bill.
“Both law enforcement and rights holders are currently limited in the remedies available to combat websites dedicated to offering infringing content and products. These rogue websites are often foreign-owned and operated, or reside at domain names that are not registered through a U.S.-based registry or registrar,” Leahy added.
Similar comments were made by the other Committee members and the various entertainment industry lobby groups.
For Hollywood and the major record labels the PROTECT IP Act is the legislation they have dreamed of for a long time. It allows for copyright holders to obtain a court orders to seize a domain, or prevent payment providers and ad-networks from doing business with sites that allegedly facilitate copyright infringement. All without due process.
The PROTECT IP Act will now move on to the Senate where it’s expected to be opposed by Senator Ron Wyden, who also stopped the bill’s predecessor COICA, fearing it would stifle free speech. Whether it will be enough to prevent the legislation from becoming law has yet to be seen.
Update: Senator Wyden placed a hold on the PROTECT IP Act and released the following statement.
“Consistent with Senate Standing Orders and my policy of publishing in the Congressional Record a statement whenever I place a hold on legislation, I am announcing my intention to object to any unanimous consent request to proceed to S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act.
“In December of last year I placed a hold on similar legislation, commonly called COICA, because I felt the costs of the legislation far outweighed the benefits. After careful analysis of the Protect IP Act, or PIPA, I am compelled to draw the same conclusion. I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective. At the expense of legitimate commerce, PIPA’s prescription takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet when a more balanced and targeted approach would be more effective. The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet.
“The Internet represents the shipping lane of the 21st century. It is increasingly in America’s economic interest to ensure that the Internet is a viable means for American innovation, commerce, and the advancement of our ideals that empower people all around the world. By ceding control of the Internet to corporations through a private right of action, and to government agencies that do not sufficiently understand and value the Internet, PIPA represents a threat to our economic future and to our international objectives. Until the many issues that I and others have raised with this legislation are addressed, I will object to a unanimous consent request to proceed to the legislation.”