OPEN Anti-Piracy Draft Circulated By PROTECT IP, SOPA Opponents

As promised, opponents of the current SOPA and PROTECT IP online foreign anti-piracy bills have introduced their own alternative legislation in the form of a draft bill.

It is based on a framework outlined last week by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), John Campbell (R-Calif.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), John Warner (D-Va.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

The Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act would update U.S. trade laws to reflect that illegally downloading protected content -- like a TV show or film -- from a foreign-owned Web site is akin to illegally importing foreign hard goods. It would expand the powers of the International Trade Commission to enforce copyright and trademark infringement of online digital goods.

"U.S. trade laws have failed to keep pace with the digital economy and have yet to extend the protections that U.S. rights-holders enjoy in the physical world to the online world," said the bill's co-sponsors, said Wyden and Issa in announcing the draft. Issa is former chair of the Consumer Electronics Association, which also opposes the SOPA and PROTECT IP approaches, which expand the powers of studios and the Justice department to shut down infringing sites.

OPEN backers say it, too, would expand industry powers, giving U.S. rights-holders the ability to petition the ITC to investigate cases of illegal digital imports.

"Building on the International Trade Commission's existing IP expertise and authority makes it possible to go after legitimate cases of IP abuse without doing irreparable harm to the Internet," said Wyden. "It is our hope that proponents of other approaches won't just dismiss our proposal, but will instead take this opportunity to engage us on the substance. Yes, IP infringement is a problem, but the Internet has become such an important part of our economy and our way of life that it is essential for us to get the policies that shape its future right."  

The studios and major publishers and unions backing SOPA and PROTECT IP dismissed the bill.

The Copyright Alliance said that the new bill offers no relief to independent content creators battling online piracy from foreign Web sites. The alliance, which includes NBCUniversal, the National Association of Broadcasters, Viacom, Disney, Time Warner, Sony, News Corp., various guilds and a host of other publishers and artist associations, was blunt in its critique.

It said the bill was impractical for artists, had ineffective penalties, provided an insurmountable burden of proof of infringement, gave the ITC inefficient resources, and had no Justice Department enforcement.

"The baseline for evaluating any proposal to address intellectual property theft by foreign rogue websites should be whether the proposal will offer all artists and creators an effective enforcement tool," said Copyright Alliance executive director Sandra Aistars. "While the creative community appreciates the recognition by bill sponsors of the need to address massive online infringement, the 'Digital Trade Act' unfortunately fails that test on a number of fronts."

John Eggerton

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.