Senate leaders renew push to crack down on Internet piracy

The push to combat websites that sell stolen content has gained renewed bipartisan support on Capitol Hill.

Democratic and Republican Senate Judiciary Committee leaders Thursday introduced a bill that aims to crack down on rogue websites dedicated to the sale of counterfeit products, including movies and television shows. Internet piracy has been a major source of grief for Hollywood studios and unions.

The measure, dubbed the Protect IP bill, follows similar legislation introduced last year in the previous Congress and could come up for a full vote in the Senate this summer. The House is working on a related bill.

"This legislation will protect the investment American companies make in developing brands and creating content and will protect the jobs associated with those investments," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who introduced the bill with Sens. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). "The Protect IP Act targets the most egregious actors, and is an important first step to putting a stop to online piracy and sale of counterfeit goods."

The proposed law is strongly backed by Hollywood's chief lobbying group, the Motion Picture Assn. of America, as well as the Independent Film & Television Alliance and other industry organizations. Among other things, the legislation would give the Justice Department authority to seek a court order against the registrant or owner of a domain name tied to websites that sell counterfeit goods, including sites that are foreign owned.

The act also authorizes a rights holder who is a victim of copyright infringement to take court action against a domain name owner or registrant.

Payment processors and Internet advertising networks that voluntarily stop doing business with websites involved with piracy would be immunized from damages.

A coalition of entertainment industry and labor groups praised the legislation.

"Rogue websites, which are run by foreign profiteers who play absolutely no role in financing or creating the content they so casually steal, rob our members of the ability to make a living, deplete earnings that would otherwise fund their pension and health plans, and threaten the ability of our industry to provide jobs now and in the future," said a statement from unions representing actors, directors, musicians and below-the-line crew members.

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