Senators Introduce Bill to Fight Websites with Pirated Content

Tom Williams/Roll Call

UPDATED: Industry groups and unions lauded the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP Act) and a separate bill that would classify illicit online streaming of copyrighted content as a felony.

NEW YORK - Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill in the Senate targeting online piracy, particularly so-called rogue websites abroad that offer movies, TV shows and other copyrighted or trademarked content illegally instead of properly licensing content.

The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP Act), as it is known, has been supported by a broad coalition of entertainment industry groups.

Under the Act, foreign websites, formerly operating outside the realm of U.S. law, would no longer be allowed to exploit U.S. Internet service providers, payment processors, search engines and ad placement services, among others, "to sustain their illicit online businesses," industry groups said in a statement. The MPAA has said that rogue sites include sites that offer streaming or downloadable copyrighted content or link to "a torrent or other...file that initiates piracy."

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chris Coons (D-DE) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also sponsored the bill.

The House of Representatives has also been working on a version of the legislation. New MPAA head Chris Dodd in his recent inaugural speech mentioned rogue sites as a key threat.

Separately on Thursday, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced legislation that would classify illicit online streaming of copyrighted content as a felony, bringing it into line with other forms of content theft.

Legislators and industry groups lauded both bills.

"This legislation 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 about the first bill. Added Hatch: "With this legislation, we are sending a strong message to those selling or distributing counterfeit goods online that the United States will strongly protect its intellectual property rights."

The MPAA, the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA) and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) praised the Senate move on the PROTECT IP Act as well. They said they are working closely with a wider coalition of entertainment union workers and organizations, businesses and labor groups involved in the production, sale and distribution of creative content.

"To the camera crew, the makeup artists, the truck drivers and all the other hard-working middle-class Americans involved in the making of a motion picture or television show, digital theft means declining incomes, lost jobs and reduced health and retirement benefits for them and their families," said Michael O'Leary, executive vp, government affairs at the MPAA. "We look forward to working with the Senate Judiciary Committee and in the House, chairman Lamar Smith and other leaders who are drafting their own bill to target rogue websites to ensure that the final legislation passed by both chambers and presented to the President provides adequate online protection of the American film and television community, an industry that supports 2.4 million American jobs."

“This legislation will give U.S law enforcement agencies much needed and far more effective tools to fight the growth of illegal international rogue websites and foreign profiteers who directly attack our members’ livelihoods by knowingly trafficking in stolen content," a joint statement from the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), IATSE, Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said.

"If website operators who deliberately mislead and defraud consumers are allowed to engage in this behavior unhindered, the entire Internet marketplace is at risk," said Sandra Aistars, executive director of the Copyright Alliance.

“Websites dedicated to trafficking in counterfeit products and digital theft dupe consumers, steal our jobs, and threaten the vibrant Internet marketplace,” said Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The streaming bill also earned wide praise. For example, an entertainment industry coalition, including MPAA, IFTA and NATO, lauded the sponsors of the streaming bill. “It is high time that the punishment fit the crime," said John Fithian, president and CEO of NATO. "Illegal streaming of stolen content is growing and poses a threat to the profitability of movie theaters and to the jobs of our 160,000 employees in the U.S.”

A group of politicians from both parties had in October unveiled a proposal to combat the theft and distribution of illegal digital movies and TV shows on the Internet, but the bill never came to a vote as legislative action was delayed until after last year's elections.


Twitter: @georgszalai