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Unions Back Bill Cracking Down On Web Pirates

"Internet profiteers are springing up all
over the world - individuals and businesses solely dedicated to using the
Internet to create money-making websites that steal from our members and put
the American public at risk."

That was from a letter from unions AFTRA, DGA,
IATSE and SAG in support of legislation to crack down on Web sites that
pirate content.

The letter was sent to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the chairman and ranking members, respectively, of
the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two teamed on a bill, S. 3804, the
"Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which would give the
Justice Department more power to shut down Web sites that illegally stream or
sell TV shows and movies.

"We are writing this letter to you with a
two-fold purpose. First, we want to thank you for the commitment and determination
you have shown in crafting and introducing S. 3804, the "Combating Online
Infringement and

Counterfeits Act," said the unions.
"Second, we want to assure you that we stand firmly with you - knowing
full well the barrage of misinformation and fear tactics that will be cast
against this legislation by those who seek an Internet in which
everything is free to be stolen and there are no protections for consumers or
creators at all."

After the bill was introduced, there was almost
immediate pushback from fair use groups concerned the bill could throttle
services like YouTube before they got started.

The bill as introduced 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."

It would also include protections against
overreach and has since been modified somewhat, according to sources, after
complaints about "blacklists" of sites and overbroad secondary
liability, but not modified enough to suit Public Knowledge and others.

Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director for Public
Knowledge, says that one of the more important changes was removing the section
that allowed the attorney general to post a list of domain names that Justice
had a reasonable belief were dedicated to infringing conduct. People doing
business with those sites could stop doing so with immunity from liability.
Dropping that was the good news as far as Public Knowledge was concerned. The
bad new was that section was replaced by one allowing individual businesses
like ad networks or credit card companies to stop doing business with immunity
if they made the individual decision that sites were infringing. Public
Knowledge is also concerned about language targeting "enablers" and
"facilitators" with secondary liability.

Rick Cotton, EVP and General Counsel, NBC Universal, still likes what he sees in the Leahy bill.

"This legislation clearly targets the worst of the worst -the rogue sites that are dedicated to theft and that kill jobs in the highest growth sectors of the US economy. Whether it's online or on the street, and theft is theft, he told B&C. "The fact is that a site overwhelmingly dedicated to illegal activity is a wholly appropriate target for aggressive law enforcement regardless of whether it's conducting a small amount of legitimate activity on the side. Thieves selling stolen goods are arrested even if they happen to be dealing in one or items of legitimate commerce on the side. Wholesale theft is not a protected first amendment activity."

Both sides will have time to weigh in some more. The Senate
and House have closed up legislative shop for the elections, except for pro
forma meetings to remain technically in session to prevent recess appointments.

In the meantime, the Justice Department Thursday
announced almost $4 million in grants to local law enforcement to combat
intellectual property infringement. ""We appreciate the Justice
Department's continuing commitment to combat intellectual property infringement
and its dedication to protecting the rights of American creators who contribute
greatly to our nation's economic growth," said Motion Picture Association
of America President Bob Pisano.