A group of congressional lawmakers are crafting their own legislation to combat online piracy as an alternative to a controversial measure pending that has drawn opposition from heavy-hitters in the tech industry, including Google and Apple.
The pending bills, the House's Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Senate's PROTECT IP Act, aim to block U.S. residents from accessing rogue foreign Web sites that peddle counterfeit products or copyrighted material. Internet service providers and payment networks such as PayPal would be required to help shut down these websites.
Critics in the U.S. Congress and in the tech community say these bills are written too broadly and could ensnare good actors online and, at worst, chill speech and break the Internet. Another criticism about the legislation is that its enforcement mechanism blocking access to these sites is easy to get around.
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat leading a bipartisan effort for a new anti-piracy bill, told Talking Points Memo that legislation needs input from the tech and Internet community. A draft of the proposed legislative text will be put online to solicit feedback before any bill is introduced.
Should ITC Have Oversight?
According to a discussion draft released Thursday, the biggest change from the pending bills is placing enforcement power in the hands of the U.S. International Trade Commission, rather than the Department of Justice.
Right now, piracy is being dealt with in the legal system, through a magistrate, narrowly in scope, Wyden told TPM. That doesn't take into effect that this is a broader issue of international commerce.
Unlike the House's SOPA legislation, which would authorize the Justice Department to obtain court orders against rogue foreign Web sites, the new proposal would empower the ITC to combat online piracy.
The ITC, an independent agency, would be allowed to investigate potentially infringing digital imports, similar to the way the commission probes imported patent-infringing LCD panels or counterfeit clothing.
Downloading a movie from a foreign-registered site, for example, is much like importing a good from a foreign company, the proposal says.
The ITC could issue a cease-and-desist order against foreign Web sites that it deems to be primarily and willfully engaging in copyright infringement. Any decision by the ITC could be appealed to a federal court.
By putting the regulatory power in the hands of the International Trade Commission -- versus a diversity of magistrate judges not versed in Internet and trade policy -- will ensure a transparent process in which import policy is fairly and consistently applied and all interests are taken into account, the draft proposal says.
Along with Wyden, the draft was authored by Sens. Maria Cantwell, Jerry Moran, Mark Warner and Reps. Jason Chaffetz, John Campbell, Lloyd Doggett, Anna Eshoo, Darrell Issa and Zoe Lofgren.