The Senate Judiciary Committee approved by a voice vote on Thursday legislation that would give the Justice Department the power to block foreign websites that violate copyright laws.
It also prevents U.S. credit card companies and advertisers from accepting business from sites that distribute movies and television shows illegally.
Called the PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property), the legislation has been hailed by the film and entertainment industry as an important way to crack down on the threat of digital piracy.
But public advocacy groups have objected that it gives the government too much authority over the internet.
Though it passed the committee, the legislation may still be derailed. Claiming that the act as written would infringe on speech and discourage innovation, Sen. Ron Wyden, (D-Oregon), placed a hold on the bill.
Before being heard by the full Senate, the act will now be subjected to debate and a roll call vote.
"I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective," Wyden said in a statement. "At the expense of legitimate commerce, [the legislation] takes an overreaching approach to policing the Internet when a more balanced and targeted approach would be more effective. The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet."
Wyden's interpretation contradicts that of various film and television groups, who say it is a crucial way to prevent movies and television shows from being downloaded illegally — something they say threatens the health of the entertainment industry as a whole.
“The Judiciary Committee took an important step today to stop theft and save jobs,” Michael O’Leary, executive VP of government affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America, said in a statement. “By helping shut down rogue websites that profit from stolen films, television shows and other counterfeit goods, this legislation will protect wages and benefits for the millions of middle class workers who bring America’s creativity to life."