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New Legislation Targets Foreign Websites

12 May, 2011 By: Chris Tribbey

New legislation introduced May 12 in the U.S. Senate would target foreign websites dealing in pirated content and goods by preventing them from using America’s Internet infrastructure, including ISPs, search engines and registrars.

The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act, or PROTECT IP, would give the Justice Department the right to file civil action against the registrant or owner of a foreign-registered domain name that deals in illegal goods, as well as those domains that access a foreign infringing site.

The bill would also help prevent piracy sites from exploiting U.S. registries, payment processors and ad placement services.

Most importantly for the film industry, PROTECT IP would authorize content rights holders victimized by piracy the right to bring an action against the owner, registrant or Internet site that deals in pirated content.

The bill drew praise from all corners of the entertainment industry.

“Online counterfeiting and infringement are serious and growing threats that have the potential to undermine America's economic resurgence,” Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman said in a statement. “With increasing sophistication, criminal elements are infecting the Internet ecosystem with illegal, parasitic websites that steal the hard work of millions and expose innocent users to a spectrum of significant, real-world dangers.

“In order to combat these evolving threats, law enforcement must be given the necessary tools to continue to effectively protect American workers,” he added. “Across the entertainment industry alone, more than 140,000 jobs have already been lost due to online piracy, and other IP-dependent industries are equally at risk.”

A joint statement from the Directors Guild of America, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Screen Actors Guild and several other industry groups praised the legislation as “clearly and undeniably protect[ing] the creators of speech by combating its theft.”

“This legislation will give U.S law enforcement agencies much-needed and far more effective tools to fight the growth of illegal international rogue websites and foreign profiteers who directly attack our members’ livelihoods by knowingly trafficking in stolen content,” the statement read. “ Rogue websites, which are run by foreign profiteers who play absolutely no role in financing or creating the content they so casually steal, rob our members of the ability to make a living, deplete earnings that would otherwise fund their pension and health plans, and threaten the ability of our industry to provide jobs now and in the future.”

Michael O'Leary, EVP of government affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America, said the bill recognizes “the true cost of online content theft.”

“To the camera crew, the makeup artists, the truck drivers and all the other hard-working middle-class Americans involved in the making of a motion picture or television show, digital theft means declining incomes, lost jobs and reduced health and retirement benefits for them and their families,” he said in a statement.

However, consumer rights group Public Knowledge came out against the bill, saying it would “alter the landscape of legal protections for Internet use in the name of cracking down on ‘rogue websites.’”

“The bill … overreaches in a number of areas, including allowing for the blacklists of websites, the definitions of the types of companies covered by the bill and allowing private companies to get injunctions against credit card and other firms that serve targeted sites,” said Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director of Public Knowledge. “The bill as written can still allow actions against sites that aren’t infringing on copyright if the site is seen to ‘enable or facilitate’ infringement — a definition that is far too broad.”

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