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Smith Circulates New Version of SOPA

A revised version of the Stop Online Protection Act has been circulated by Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chair of the House Judiciary Committee in advance of Thursday's planned markup of the bill, which has been generating lots of pushback from its critics. That came in the form of a managers amendment, which is essentially a new version of the bill to be substituted for the old.

That new version includes making it explicit that the bill only targets foreign sites, no longer allows for redirection from an infringing site, makes it clear ISPs have the flexibility to determine how best to comply and narrows the definition of rogue Web site, according to Smith's office.

While bill critic Public Knowledge says there are some improvements on the original language, it still has "significant" problems with the bill, including that the group says it still encourages blocking and filtering, which it said should concern human rights activists and internet security experts.

SOPA gives the Justice Department and content owners more power to shut down foreign-based, U.S.-directed web sites they suspect of trafficking in pirated content. Critics of the bill argue its language is too broad and will impact domestic sites as well. but Smith's office says one of the changes is to make it clear it only targets foreign-owned sites.  Smith is scheduled to discuss the piracy issue at a Capitol Hill event Tuesday.

According to Smith's outline of the changes, the manager's amendment:

- Clarifies that provisions of the bill apply only to foreign rogue websites

- Removes language that would have required redirection when users try to access
an unlawful site

- Includes a savings clause that disallows a court from issuing an order that
would harm DNS

- Makes sure that service providers have the ability to determine the best method
to ensure compliance and prohibits courts from imposing any additional obligations
on service providers

- Commissions an inter-agency expert study on any impact of the bill's remedies
on the DNS

- Makes clear that in an action by the Attorney General, service providers will
not be required to block subdomains

- Narrows definitions in the bill

- Narrows the definition of rogue websites dedicated to illegal or infringing
activity to ensure that monitoring is not required

- Narrows the definition of search engines to clarify that only services that
operate primarily as search engines are covered, not search functions on other
services or services powered by third parties

- Narrows the definition of payment processors to ensure that banks and credit unions
are not included as such

- Narrows the definition of advertising networks to clarify that the bill covers
entities directly involved in serving ads to foreign rogue websites 

- Removes the "voluntary notice" section for rights holders; this means
rights holders are no longer required to provide notice to payment processors
and advertising networks as a precondition to seeking judicial relief. Victims
of IP theft will continue to use current voluntary market-based systems to
address counterfeiting and piracy. The bill maintains immunity for
financial institutions and online ad service providers.

Public Knowledge still prefers the alternative bill offered up last week by some of SOPA's congressional critics, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

That bill, 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.