Senate Steps Into the Anti-Piracy Fray

A bipartisan group of senators introduces legislation that would make it far easier for the government to shut down websites offering illegal copies of films and TV shows

The U.S. senate is stepping into the debate about movie piracy.

A bipartisan group of senators headed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced legislation on Monday that would make it far easier for the government to shut down websites offering illegal copies of films, TV shows or software.

The legislation, “The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act,  will “protect the investment American companies make in developing brands and creating content and will protect the jobs associated with those investments.” that will be discussed at a committee hearing on Thursday.

He said his legislation — dubbed, “The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, will “protect the investment American companies make in developing brands and creating content and will protect the jobs associated with those investments,” Leahy said in a statement. It will be discussed in a committee hearing on Thursday.

“Each year, online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods cost American businesses billions of dollars, and result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs,” said.

The legislation would several changes in federal law.

It would give the Department of Justice an expedited process for cracking down on websites that make pirrated goods and services available. It also would allow the department to file a civil action against a domain name repeatedly used to traffic infringing material, get an order closing down the site and establish procedures for a domain name owner to lift the order.

While the Department of Justice could initiate procedures, only a ruling by a federal judge could shut down a domain name, however.

Co-sponsors 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.

“By cracking down on online piracy of television shows and movies, we hope this bill will encourage copyright owners to develop innovative and competitive new choices for consumers to watch video over the internet,” Kohl said.

The legislation also needs House action, which would seem to make any action this year unlikely. But both the Motion Picture Association of American and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce praised the legislation.

“We’re very pleased to join a great number of creators and workers from throughout the motion picture and television industry in support today of this important legislation to combat efforts to steal the lifeblood of one of our nation’s most important industries,” said Bob Pisano, MPAA president and Interim CEO in a statement.

He cited the more than 2.4 million people who depend on the entertainment industry for their jobs.

“For these workers and their families, digital theft means declining incomes, lost jobs and reduced health and retirement benefits. Unfortunately, this means nothing to the operators of rogue websites who seek to benefit illegally from the hard work of others.”  

The Directors Guild of America, AFTRA, SAG and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees in a statement said the legislation “would make it easier to shut down ‘rogue’ sites which are dedicated to stealing the films, television programs and music created by our members.

“The largely foreign profiteers who operate these sites rob our members of the ability to make a living from their creativity and labor, prevent funds from reaching their pension and health plans, and endanger their ability to work now and in the future,” said the statement. Left unchecks the content “imperils the ability of content creators and financiers to continue making the content that people love to watch.”

Said Viacom President and CEO Philippe Dauman, "This bill is an important step forward to help curb rampant piracy here and abroad, and protect American jobs. We look forward to working with the Senate and House Judiciary Committees and Congressional leadership on its passage."

The National Music Publishers Association also praised the legislation: “Digital theft is a significant and growing problem for songwriters and music publishers, so we welcome today’s action in the U.S. Senate,” said president-CEO David Isrealite. “There is simply no excuse for Internet sites that profit illegally from the works of others to be allowed to function unchallenged.”

David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Global Intellectual Property Center, called piracy over the internet a “growing scourge.”

“The sale of counterfeit and pirated goods online is rampant across the world, hindering our economic growth, killing our jobs, and putting our consumers at risk,” he said.