Wyden, Issa Release Alternate Anti-Piracy Bill, But Hollywood's Not Biting

The new proposed bill goes farther to attract Silicon Valley support

With support for current proposed anti-piracy legislation waning, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) released on Thursday a compromise proposal that would likely receive the endorsement of the tech community.

The proposed legislation — which targets advertisers and credit-card companies that work with websites that offer pirated content – would crack down on copyright violations without infringing upon free speech, supporters say. 

It would also, presumably, face less heated opposition from tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft, all of whom have been critical of earlier proposals. 

Also read: Think Tank: Anti-Piracy Legislation Would Not Lead to Censorship

However, it faces a huge roadblock. In a statement released after Issa and Wyden unveiled their proposal, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) came out swinging, saying the proposal doesn't go far enough.

The MPAA has been one of the major forces behind the current anti-piracy legislation, with its mogul members taking the rare step of converging on Washington, D.C. on Wednesday for the association's annual meeting and to show their support for the two bills — the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act —currently making their way through Congress.

Both bills would give the Justice Department authority to shut down rogue offshore websites that flog everything from pirated music and movies to bogus pharmaceuticals via the internet.

Wyden and Issa’s proposed legislation, called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act, does not give the government the authority to force web companies to delete links to those sites, as the other legislation proposes. 

In a release, the two co-sponsors write that the proposal "…would target only sites 'primarily' and 'willfully' engaging in infringement."

“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. It also just makes sense,” Wyden said, adding: "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."

Admitting that IP infringement is a problem, he said, "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.” 

Digital rights groups hailed the proposal as an important compromise between penalizing copyright violators and keeping digital commerce operating smoothly. 

"The draft bill is a marked improvement because it adheres to the successful ‘follow-the-money’ approach used well to shut down Web sites in other contexts such as Internet gambling, and because it makes certain that any actions are taken by official government enforcement agencies – not allowing for the vigilante justice in the other bills," Sherwin Siy, deputy legal director of Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

Large tech firms such as Google say SOPA and PIPA would legally obligate them to police their websites and to shut down potentially infringing websites. They argue that if enacted the laws would make them liable even if an infringing link were found on their website. Thus there is a danger that questionable, and potentially legal, sites might be shut down out of an abundance of caution, opponents say.

The SOPA and PIPA would provide a process for the attorney general to seek a court order against illegal websites. However, the Wyden-Issa proposal, according to Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge, provides tighter definitions and would give the ITC the responsibility to determine whether a site is “rogue” and should be blocked — not private companies.

The MPAA was not enamored with Wyden and Issa's approach.

"This draft legislation fails to provide an effective way to target foreign rogue websites and goes easy on online piracy and counterfeiting," Michael O’Leary, the MPAA's senior executive vice president for global policy and external affairs, said in a statement. "By changing the venue from our federal courts to the U.S. International Trade Commission, it places copyright holders at a disadvantage and allows companies profiting from online piracy to advocate for foreign rogue websites against rightful American copyright holders. It even allows notification to some of these companies if they want to help advocate for rogue websites."

Hollywood's main lobbying arm favors the PROTECT IP Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act. Both would give the Justice Department authority to shut down rogue offshore websites that flog everything from pirated music and movies to bogus pharmaceuticals via the internet.

Wyden and Issa's bill would give that power to the International Trade Commission, which would investigate violations. 

Peter Voskamp contributed to this report.