New 'Stop Online Piracy Act' to give U.S. more site-seizing power

The controversial PROTECT IP bill languished on Capitol Hill, but a new proposal could take up its cause. HR 3261, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, will "promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property" and allow the U.S. Attorney General to go after foreign sites engaging in copyright infringement.

According to SOPA (.pdf), rogue sites operating within the U.S. would face immediate seizure while international infringing sites would face in rem legal action.

SOPA architect Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX) believes the bill is necessary so the U.S. government can hit foreign piracy groups where it hurts: their revenue streams.

"The online thieves who run these foreign websites are out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement agencies and profit from selling pirated goods without any legal consequences,” said Smith. "The Stop Online Piracy Act helps stop the flow of revenue to rogue websites and ensures that the profits from American innovations go to American innovators."

Online rights advocate the Electronic Frontier Foundation called the proposal "disastrous" and even worse than its predecessor, PROTECT IP.

EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne, EFF intellectual property director, explained:

Under this bill, service providers (including hosting services) would be under new pressure to monitor and police their users' activities. Websites that simply don't do enough to police infringement (and it is not at all clear what would qualify as "enough") are now under threat, even though the DMCA expressly does not require affirmative policing. It creates new enforcement tools against folks who dare to help users access sites that may have been "blacklisted," even without any kind of court hearing. The bill also requires that search engines, payment providers (such as credit card companies and PayPal), and advertising services join in the fun in shutting down entire websites.

"And that's only the beginning," added McSherry. "We haven't even started on the streaming provisions."

Creative rights groups including the MPAA and NATO praised the new legislation.

"Under the Stop Online Piracy Act, these 'rogue websites' would no longer be allowed to exploit U.S. registrars, registries, Internet service providers, payment processors, search engines and ad placement services to sustain their illicit online businesses," said the MPAA in a press statement (.pdf). "Attacking the financial underpinnings of these illegal sites and the criminals that operate them will help dry up profits to their illicit operations."

"Passing this bill is an important step to protect the jobs of 160,000 movie theater employees and sustain one of the vital engines of the nation's economic growth," added John Fithian, NATO president and CEO.

A formal House hearing on SOPA is scheduled for November 16.

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