Anti-Piracy Bill Passes Committee, Heads to Full Senate for Vote

Hollywood gives a full thumbs-up to bipartisan bill that would allow the Department of Justice to shut down offending sites

For Hollywood, there was nothing lame Thursday about the lame duck Senate.

Just days after parts of “Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” leaked online and less than three weeks after the midterm elections, the Judiciary Committee unanimously passed Sen. Patrick Leahy’s Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act on for a vote by the full Senate.

The bill, expected to be voted on by the full Senate before the end of the year, would give the Department of Justice expansive powers to shut down sites that are deemed to be infringing on American intellectual property such as software, movies, television shows and music.

Read the full Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act

The bill, in just one of many provisions of concern to Freedom of Speech advocates, also provides the government with the ability to compel internet service providers and search engines to block U.S. access to identified infringing overseas based sites. 

It also would allow the Department of Justice to file a civil action against a domain name repeatedly used to traffic infringing material.

The Judiciary Committee’s 19-0 vote was a rare display of bipartisanship in what has become a fractious political environment in Washington –a point the bill’s primary sponsor and the committee chair made sure to emphasis after Thursday’s vote

“Protecting intellectual property is not uniquely a Democratic or Republican priority — it is a bipartisan priority,” said Vermont Democrat Leahy, “and this legislation is a great example of our ability to come together to on an issue that is critical to our economic and job growth.”

Despite concerns from a wide variety of tech associations and activists about the fallout of potential censorship in this wide-ranging effort to stop copyright infringement, Hollywood gave the anti-piracy effort a full thumbs-up.

“As part of a wide ranging coalition of workers and businesses whose jobs and financial health have been placed at risk by content theft,” said Bob Pisano, of the Motion Picture Association of America, “we commend Senators Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch for their leadership on this bill.”

“We believe,” the MPAA President and Interim CEO added, “that Congress and the Administration can make a significant contribution to that effort by turning the Leahy-Hatch bill into law and giving law enforcement significantly enhanced tools for addressing a threat that deprives American innovators of the fruits of their labors and menaces our nation’s economic health.” 

Hollywood’s major guilds were on board as well. “We believe today’s committee action is the first step in making it much more difficult for rogue site operators to run their sites with impunity,” said AFTRA, DGA, IATSE & SAG in a joint statement.

The Chamber of Commerce, a staunch advocate of the legislation since it was first introduced, also commended the bill’s process towards law. “Senator Leahy’s ‘rogue sites’ bill is carefully crafted legislation,” said David Hirschmann of the Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center, “that provides the Department of Justice enhanced legal tools to crack down on the very worst criminal websites to promote a safer, better Internet.”

Said the Independent Film & Television Alliance's President-CEO Jean M. Prewitt: "This bill is important to the independent film and television industry, since it provides new tools with which the Department of Justice can efficiently track and shut down websites devoted to offering unauthorized and illegal content. The Senators are to be commended for today's unanimous and bipartisan message that American innovation and creation will be protected so that further intellectual property can be financed, created and legitimately offered to the public."

Not that the applause was universal. “We are disappointed that the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning chose to disregard the concerns of public-interest groups, Internet engineers, Internet companies, human-rights groups and law professors in approving a bill that could do great harm to the public and to the Internet,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge.

The consumer rights group is one of many that have issues with the scope and reach of the bill.

Co-sponsors of the bill include the committee’s ranking Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch,  R-Utah; Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; Arlen Specter, D-Penn.; Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Dick Durbin, D-Ill.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.;  Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Evan Bayh, D-Ind.; and George Voinovich, R-Ohio.