Leahy Bill Would Boost DOJ Power To Combat Online TV, Movie Pirates

A bipartisan bill that would give the Justice
Department more power to shut down Web sites that illegally stream
or sell TV shows and movies was introduced Monday by Senate Judiciary Committee
Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).

"Each year, online piracy and the sale of
counterfeit goods cost American businesses billions of dollars, and result
in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs," said Leahy in announcing the bill. "The
Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act
will protect the investment American companies make in developing brands and
creating content and will protect the jobs associated with
those investments," he said.

Leahy will vet the bill at a committee business
meeting Sept. 23.

The bill would give Justice more power to pull the
plug on U.S. sites it found to be offering "infringing content"
by suspending the domain name of the offender. For sites based outside the
U.S., Justice would be able to serve an infringement court order on ISPs
and ad network providers requiring them to stop doing business with the
website, by, among other things, "blocking online access to the rogue site
or not processing the website's purchases."

But it would also include protections against possible
overreach, including allowing only the Justice Department to initiate an
action against an infringing site, and giving a federal court the final say
on whether a domain would be suspended and the site operator the right to
petition to have the order lifted.

The Motion Picture Association of America praised
the bill as a good first step, but said it would work with Leahy and others to
strengthen it.

"We're very pleased to join a great number of
creators and workers from throughout the motion picture and television industry
in support today of this important legislation to combat efforts to steal the
lifeblood of one of our nation's most important industries," said Bob
Pisano, president and interim CEO of MPAA, in a statement. "We would commend
and thank Chairman Leahy for his leadership on this important matter."

An MPAA spokesman was unavailable at press time to comment on just
what needed strengthening.

"The sites targeted by this bill kill
American jobs and undermine the future of the key high-wage growth sectors of
the U.S. economy," said Rick Cotton, EVP and general counsel for NBC
Universal, and chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Coalition Against
Counterfeiting and Piracy. "We commend Senators Leahy, Hatch and the
other co-sponsors for proposing an important law enforcement tool to stop rogue
site operators from hijacking American innovation and creativity for their own
illegal purposes. We look forward to working with them to craft the most
effective possible legislation as the bill proceeds through the Congressional
consideration process."

Other co-sponsors include Herb Kohl
(D-Wis.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.),
and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Public Knowledge deputy legal director Sherwin Siy applauded the bill as a good faith effort, but has problems with it. Public Knowledge advocates for fair use rights for copyrighted content.

"Domestically, we are concerned that the bill would establish an Internet black list of sites that the Justice Department thinks are ‘pirate' sites but against which it hasn't taken action," Siy said in a statement. "Putting an innocent site on this list could seriously harm the business of legitimate Web site operators. The remedies in the bill for those guilty until they prove themselves innocent are inadequate."

He also suggests the bill's definition of infrigement are insufficient. "We are also concerned about some of the vague definitions of what constitutes an infringing site and of the level of proof needed," he said. " It's quite possible that this bill would have allowed entertainment companies to throttle YouTube at the beginning of its creation by alleging piracy and the young company would have been unable to defend itself."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.