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Senate Trying Again with Tweaked Website Takedown Bill

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, May 12 2011

COICA is gone, but in its place comes PROTECT IP, the last development in the long-running effort by copyright-driven industry groups to get Congress to empower its enforcement efforts. Ars Technica's Nate Anderson reports that this new version of the bill backs off of the domain-seizure tactic that drew much criticism last time around and tightens the definition of what's considered an infringing site. But the tweaked legislation ends up broadening the scope of its approach.

New, for example, in PROTECT IP -- full name, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act -- is the targeting of search engines. Where COICA focused on yanking away domain names as if the were real property, the new bill takes into account the nature of the Internet ecosystem, where a website's name matters less than whether people can find it online.

More than that, the "son of COICA" bill gives content groups like Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America the right to initiate actions, a response, according to a memo on the bill posted to Techdirt, "content and brand owner concerns that law enforcement alone lacks the resources to bring a sufficient number of actions to effectively crack down on infringing Internet sites." That private right of action, though, is limited to payment processers and ad networks. Going after ISPs or search engines on infringing sites is left to the Department of Justice. Here's Anderson on putting PROTECT IP in context:

Given the strong opinions elicited by the earlier COICA, the expansion of powers here is a bit surprising, but the continued presence of the legislation is not. That's because, no matter how much power and money Congress devotes to intellectual property, rightsholders are back every couple of years for more—as the NET Act, DMCA, Sonny Bono Term Extension Act, PRO-IP Act, and Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) remind us. Each is "essential"—but somehow never quite enough.

From those bills through COICA and, now, PROTECT IP, the process here is for the content industries to progressively learn how to get the most aggressive bills possible through Congress. OpenCongress's Donny Shaw notes that those groups might be in good shape at the moment:

Although COICA was a Democratic proposal, sponsored by Sen. Pat Leahy [D, VT], it had a handful of Republican co-sponsors. It had the backing of both Republican-leaning groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Democratic-leaning groups like the Motion Pictures Association of America and some unions. With the Congress now split between the two parties, this could be the year for pushing through a bipartisan, big-business-backed bill like this. Unless, of course, internet users and content producers put up a fight.

Also in their pocket: the fact that newly former Senator Christopher Dodd is now the head of the MPAA.