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House Companion to Protect IP Bill Introduced

Bill gives law enforcement wider latitude in pursuing foreign Web sites that pirate TV shows and movies 10/26/2011 05:38:48 PM Eastern

As studios and unions had hoped and fair use advocates, including consumer electronics companies, had tried to forestall, a companion to the Protect IP Act was introduced Wednesday in the House.

There has been plenty of  activity on the issue in the past few days as the Consumer Electronics Association and others asked House members to hold off on the bill until the legislators could hold more meetings with those stakeholders about their concerns. In fact, CEA is bringing venture capitalists to the Hill Thursday (Oct. 27) to argue that the bill--now bills--would undermine the Web economy, kill jobs and stunt innovation.

Like the Protect IP Act, the STOP Online Piracy Act would give law enforcement more power to pursue foreign web sites they suspect of distributing pirated TV shows and movies. Proponents say it would protect legal content while taking a bite out of IP theft crime. Critics, including CEA, say it goes overboard, and overbroad, by allowing copyright owners to shut down sites on mere accusation by forcing ISPs to block access to such sites.

The Judiciary Committee describes it as allowing the Attorney General to seek injunctions against foreign sites that "steal and sell American innovations and products."

"The notoriously litigious content industry could simply accuse a site that it is selling a product that could ‘enable or facilitate' a copyright infringement, thereby allowing accusations to shut down sites vital to the Internet economy," CEDA President Gary Shapiro said Thursday. "This scenario is unacceptable and could lead to mass shut downs of websites and Internet-enabled services."

Unions representing content creators--AFTRA, SAG and IATSE among others--applauded the bill's introduction. "As the Guilds and Unions that represent more than 400,000 craftspeople, actors, technicians, directors, musicians, recording artists and others whose creativity is at the heart of the American entertainment industry, we applaud Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), and Congressmen Howard Berman (D-CA) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) along with several other Members of Congress, for introducing HR 3261, the STOP Online Piracy Act today," they said.

"We applaud House Judiciary Chairman Smith for his leadership and introduction of the Stop Online Piracy Act, legislation that will help combat the harmful practices of online piracy and illegal content distribution," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell. "We support the efforts of Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Conyers to add new, reasonable tools that will protect copyrighted goods while balancing the obligations of organizations that conduct business on the Internet. The cable industry will continue to explore further steps to thwart digital theft and we look forward to working with the House Judiciary committee on this important legislation."

Kyle McSlarrow, Comcast/NBCU Washington President and Powell's predecessor atop NCTA, echoed that applause."We join with other Internet service providers, sports leagues, networks and studios, and a host of other labor unions, guilds, and industries in our recognition of how critical it is to deter and reduce digital crime and urge the prompt consideration of this important legislation."

As to complaints from bill critics that the bill is too sweeping, McSlarrow said that Comcast customers would still be able to access all legal content, and that the bill is "narrowly targeted to only illegal streaming activities or rogue websites found by a court to be engaged in trademark counterfeiting or illegally reproducing or distributing material protected by copyright."

Public Knowledge, one of those fair use fans fighting the legislation, was not pleased. "The new House legislation (HR 3261) is an unwarranted expansion of government power to protect one special interest," it said. "The bill would overturn the long-accepted principles and practices of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice and takedown process in favor of a one-sided enforcement mechanism that is far more broad than existing law while not attempting to protect the rights of anyone accused of copyright infringement."

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