House introduces Internet piracy bill

House lawmakers on Wednesday introduced a bill that would expand the ability of federal law enforcement to shut down foreign Web sites and services that that use counterfeited or pirated content created by U.S. firms.

The “Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261),” was introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee. It would allow the FBI to seek injunctions against foreign Web sites that steal music, films, software and other intellectual property created by U.S. firms. The bill also includes provision that could hold third parties — payment-processing and other partners — responsible for piracy and counterfeiting on other sites, some critics say.

The main authors of the bill were Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), and Howard Berman (D-Calif.).

The lawmakers said their bill is aimed at protecting industries under siege by piracy and counterfeiting.

“Millions of American jobs hang in the balance, and our efforts to protect America’s intellectual property are critical to our economy’s long-term success,” Conyers said in a statement.

Hollywood, media firms and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce immediately hailed the bill, saying the government needs to take a stronger stance to prevent the rampant illegal use of online content.

“Over 2 million Americans across all 50 states earn a living and support their families in jobs connected to the making of motion pictures and television shows. They deserve better than to see their work stolen out from under them by criminals out to make a profit,” said Michael O’Leary, executive vice president for government affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America. “This legislation hits rogue sites where it hurts: their access to American consumers and to the financial services they use to make money.”

But some public interest groups and Web firms and their investors said the bill is overreaching and could harm businesses that provide services on the Web.

Critics say the bill could too easily put individuals and companies under suspicion merely for writing about or linking to a site suspected of infringement.

By taking down domain names of suspected sites, some network engineers warn, the proposed legislation would disrupt the way the Internet is designed to work today and put too much of a burden on search engines and Internet service providers in blocking suspected sites.

“There is no need for a bill this sweeping and this Draconian. There are simple, easily implemented solutions on which industry and others agree — such as cutting off the ability of credit-card companies to fulfill payments to sites that traffic in copyright infringement,” said Gigi Sohn, president of the public interest group Public Knowledge.

Web investors and company executives met with lawmakers on Wednesday to lobby against provisions in the bill.

Among them: Brad Burnham and Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures; Bijan Sabet of Spark Capital; Mike Masnick of Floor64; Derek Dukes of Dipity; David Ulevitch of OpenDNS; Slava Rubin of IndieGoGo; Zack Rosen of Chapter Three LLC; and Derek Parham, an independent angel investor.

Cecilia Kang is a senior technology correspondent for The Washington Post.

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