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Senate piracy bill changed after criticism by ISPs, engineers, public advocates

Senator lawmakers on Wednesday made changes to a controversial bill aimed at combating online piracy after an uproar by Silicon Valley engineers, Internet service providers and public interest groups that the legislation would lead to censorship.

In a release, bill author Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and other members of the Judiciary Committee, announced the following amendments:

  • -The Justice Department would not longer be required to publish the domain names of sites that counterfeit products and violate copyright laws.
  • -Internet service providers wouldn't be required to modify network or facilities to comply with an order to look up domain names and shut them down.
  • -Internet service providers would be given some breathing room on domain name takedowns with new language that requires them to “act as expeditiously as reasonable,” according to a summary of the amendment.
  • -The new bill would provide more protection from legal liability for third-party registrars and ISPs. The previous version of the bill held them explicitly liable for allowing pirated material on their networks or to be registered.
  • -The amendment requires the Attorney General to work with law enforcement on a process that allows agencies to coordinate on investigations.

The release from the Senate Judiciary Committee noted that the changes were made in response to “concerns from various stakeholders.” On Tuesday, 89 network engineers wrote the committee warning that the legislation could result in stifled free speech and destabilize the underlying system of communications for the Internet. Public interest groups such as the Center for Democracy and Technology has also criticized the bill, saying it would create a great burden on Internet service providers and would force other nations to follow suit.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and companies such as Viacom and the Writers Guild of America West supported Leahy's original bill. They have pushed lawmakers and White House Intellectual Property Enforcer Victoria Espinel to clamp down on the most egregious Web sites that sell counterfeit drugs and brand names and engage in the piracy of music and movies.

Leahy’s bill, co-sponsored by ranking member Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), was introduced last week. It outlined requirements for Internet service providers to shut down domain names of sites that violate copyright laws. The proposal also allowed for Justice to establish what critics called “black lists” of sites and gave the Attorney General more leeway to shut down those sites without a court order.

“The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act will enable law enforcement to pursue websites that are solely dedicated to infringing activities, giving prosecutors the tools to shut down the “worst of the worst” online infringers,” the Judiciary Committee wrote in its release Wednesday.

By Cecilia Kang  | September 29, 2010; 2:21 PM ET
Categories:  copyright  
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