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Copyright Bill Targeting Rogue Websites Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee

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The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to approve legislation aimed at shutting down “rogue” websites selling counterfeit goods or offering pirated content. The PROTECT IP Act would authorize the Justice Department to seek court orders prohibiting American Internet service providers from offering access to infringing sites. The Act would further allow content owners to prevent online advertising services and credit card companies from dealing with websites “dedicated to infringing activities.” The new bill represents a less sweeping version of the abandoned Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (“COICA”) bill, which would have permitted the government to seize domain names involved in copyright infringement.

While some media watchdog groups greeted the proposed reforms with guarded optimism, other organizations expressed lingering concerns over the constitutionality of the Act. Critics note that the definition of a website “dedicated to infringing activities” includes sites which they argue play too small a role in the infringing activity. Reports indicate that the threat of broad enforcement may drive leading Internet search providers like Google to challenge the bill if enacted.

Proponents of the bill, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), contend that the scope of the legislation remains narrow and will only target the “worst-of-the-worst” infringing websites. The proposal enjoys strong support from manufacturer associations and the Chamber of Commerce which blame rogue sites for job losses and recent market declines. The National Association for Broadcasters recently joined the fight in favor of the bill, citing the need to combat widespread piracy of movie and television content. Whether such bipartisan support and industry backing will be enough for the PROTECT IP Act to succeed where its predecessor failed remains to be seen.