House of Representatives Introduces Protect IP Legislation

Hollywood voiced its support for the House bill, while a companion bill is stalled in the Senate.

The MPAA, major Hollywood talent guilds and studios all had praise today for the introduction of the Protect IP legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill is designed to give American authorities the right to use all means at their disposal to stop or block foreign web sites that distribute copyrighted content without the permission of the owners. It is similar to a bill previously introduced in the U.S. Senate, where it has passed a judiciary committee but has been stalled in the full Senate.

The reason it is stalled is that there is concern by some companies, including Google, Yahoo and eBay, that this legislation goes too far in making the cable companies, search engines and others police the Internet instead of leaving it to the government.

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The House version actually addresses some of the search engine company concerns. For instance, it makes the process to get a federal court to approve certifying a foreign company is breaking the law more rigorous.

When a federal court does certify that a foreign site is a violator, that order can be used to stop payment processors like Visa and PayPal from processing their transactions, stop ad insertion companies from servicing the site with ads and force companies like Comcast and Time Warner cable to use their best efforts to block online customers from accessing the site.

Comcast, which also is a content company as owner of NBC Universal, was one of the few companies in their field to come out in favor of the legislation.

“Our broadband customers will continue to access and enjoy all legal content,” said Comcast in a statement on Wednesday. “The Stop Online Piracy Act is narrowly targeted to only illegal streaming activities or rogue websites found by a court to be engaged in trademark counterfeiting or illegally reproducing or distributing material protected by copyright. Thus, this legislation, if enacted, would protect the Internet as an engine of innovation and economic growth, rather than as an environment that allows digital theft and counterfeiting to thrive."

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The House version of the bill, known as the STOP online Piracy Act (HR 3261) was introduced by a number of members including Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Congressmen Howard Berman (D-CA) and Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). The bill was also co-sponsored by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Mary Bono-Mack (R-CA), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR), Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), and Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE).

It also differs from the Senate version in other ways. It includes a clause that would make it illegal to stream copyrighted content, raising the penalty for doing so from a misdemeanor to a felony. There is a similar but separate bill to do that in the Senate.

The House version includes a voluntary notification process to encourages private, out-of-court solutions to efficiently protect against the losses from content theft.  At the same time, it preserves the ability of rights holders to seek limited injunctive relief in the courts against a rogue website if authorities don’t take action.

Among those who issued statements supporting the House bill were the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada (IATSE), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

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“As the Guilds and Unions that represent more than 400,000 craftspeople, actors, technicians, directors, musicians, recording artists and others whose creativity is at the heart of the American entertainment industry, we applaud (this bill),” said a joint statement from the guilds.

“Left unchecked, these rogue websites threaten the vitality of the online marketplace by stealing the work of American innovators and undermining legitimate business.  They profit by offering access to content that they had no role at all in creating or financing, and they threaten real jobs, not only for our members but for those with whom they collaborate on set and hundreds of thousands of others whose livelihoods are dependent on the economic health of our business.  Without proactive measures like the STOP Online Piracy Act, rogues sites will continue to siphon away wages and benefits from members of the creative community, greatly compromising our industry’s ability to foster creativity, provide opportunities, and ensure good jobs.”

In a speech Wednesday in Los Angeles, former Senator Chris Dodd, now head of the MPAA, praised the legislation and mentioned the group Creative America which was set up earlier this year to encourage people in the creative and content industries in America to support this bill and similar legislation, and other efforts to combat piracy.

The MPAA also issued a statement from Michael O’Leary, Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs: “The American motion picture and television industry is a major U.S. employer supporting over 2 million jobs and nearly $137 billion in total wages in 2009 in all 50 states. The rogue overseas marketplaces highlighted in today’s filing are a direct threat to our community and the millions of hard-working Americans that rely on it for their livelihoods. The MPAA commends and greatly appreciates the USTR’s recognition of the damage inflicted by these illicit markets on US global competitiveness and we applaud their work to protect American jobs.”

The Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), which represents independent film companies, and puts on the American Film Market, also put out a statement of support.

Jean Prewitt, IFTA President & CEO, said, “Online theft in the U.S. and overseas threatens the independent film industry and must be stopped. For the Independents, who finance films by pre-selling the rights to distributors worldwide, the drastic damage caused by online theft is measured both in films that cannot be produced and in lost returns on investment in films that have been produced. Independents account for 70% of all U.S. film production, so every independent film that can’t be financed and produced has a dramatic impact on jobs and the economy. We appreciate the House Judiciary Committee’s serious bipartisan work in bringing this bill forward to address both rogue websites and felony streaming, and we look forward to working with them to ensure that strong measures are adopted.”