Stop Online Piracy Act headed for the House

The Protect IP Bill (S. 968), which was introduced back in May, was delayed after Sen. Ron Wyden argued it might infringe on free speech. While it appears that bill has been halted for the moment, it has been replaced with a similar one, The Stop Online Piracy Act (aka E-Parasites Act) , which due for a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee on November 16.

The main authors of this bill were Representatives Lamar Smith (R-Texas), John Conyers (D-Michigan), Bob Goodlatte (R.Virginia) and Howard Berman (D-California). The proposed legislation would broaden the federal government's ability to cripple websites that host illegal content, including the ability to shut down websites violating copyright laws, pull ads, seek injunctions against foreign websites and disable credit card processing.

The bill would require internet service providers to block access to websites on their own decision, with no notification needed. It also strips away power from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which gave providers and websites safe harbor from liability if user-generated content was in violation of copyright. For individuals, there is the new, added weight of making the streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a five-year prison term as the punishment.

Proponents of the bill argue that this will help protect consumers from counterfeit products and save jobs. IP Subcommittee Chairman Goodlatte offered this in the official statement: "Intellectual property is one of America's chief job creators and competitive advantages in the global marketplace, yet American inventors, authors and entrepreneurs have been forced to stand by and watch as their works are stolen by foreign infringers."

The bill targets foreign websites that don't have to recognize U.S. law in the hopes that by blocking these offshore sites through internet providers and search engines, the copyright violation of the music, film and book industry would slow.

RIAA Chairman and CEO, Cary Sherman , offered similar sentiments: "This legislation is a first step towards a brighter day when these rogue offshore websites can no longer duck accountability under U.S. laws, all the while providing a critical boost to the marketplace for legal digital music services."

Sherman also applauds the proposal for blocking sites: "Notably, the bill also allows reasonable flexibility for ISPs in determining the most appropriate technological manner for blocking illegal sites and provides ample legal safeguards to sites accused of infringement."

Critics contend that the bill is too broad, Public Knowledge issued this statement: "This gives them the power to shut down sites like YouTube while disregarding the DMCA. Some might say it's codification of copyright inducement, but it's actually sloppier than that; it basically creates a new violation that isn't itself copyright infringement, but could be called, 'lacking sufficient zeal to prevent copyright infringement.'"

Critics fear that this would make internet censorship a matter of law, where companies and providers would be able to block specific sites of their choosing. While foreign websites are the primary target, there is no provision that requires websites to be outside of the U.S. Proponents feel that by giving ISPs and search engines the right to block sites, piracy would finally come to an end.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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