Congress Focuses on Rogue Sites

The problem of “rogue” websites that offer counterfeit and pirated content continues to be a growing problem. The websites where illegal content often appears are for-profit websites that have the look and feel of a lawful site and stay afloat by raking in hundreds of millions of dollars through advertising and subscription-based revenue. A recent study conducted by MarkMonitor estimated that these sites attract billions of visits per year and cost legitimate businesses an estimated $135 billion in lost revenue annually.

This is theft, pure and simple and as Sen. Leahy stated during today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on intellectual property infringement, “Inaction is not an option.”

Last Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed out of committee Senator Leahy’s “Combating Online Infringement of Counterfeits Act.” The legislation would provide the U.S. Department of Justice the ability to target any site whose sole purpose is the criminal distribution of infringing materials. Once these sites are identified, the DOJ must prove to a federal judge that the site’s central purpose is IP infringement before an injunction against the website can be issued. Much of the bill is targeted towards websites that are largely based offshore but the domain name registrar or registry is based in the United States. The legislation has yet to be re-introduced this Congress but Leahy made clear that a new bill would be arriving shortly.

This is an important issue and I am glad to see the Judiciary Committee holding hearings to give all the stakeholders in e-commerce from domain name registrars and registers to Internet service providers to payment processors the opportunity to layout their concerns.

Representatives from Rosetta Stone, the Author’s Guild,, Visa, and Verizon all testified and recognized the threat of these websites to the online ecosystem. But how to go after online infringers continues to be a hotly debated issue and as Verizon’s Tom Dailey made clear, there is no 100 percent solution when it comes to online infringement. Law enforcement indeed has a role to play in protecting property rights online but it is not the be-all and end-all solution and it definitely should not be the first line of defense. Recent industry-led efforts to target rogue sites that specialize in peddling counterfeit pharmaceuticals and stop them from doing business offers a promising model and this sort of collaborative effort should be expanded upon to combat all forms of intellectual property theft.

Reasonably crafted legislation coupled with cooperation amongst private actors will go a long way in combating online theft. I am looking forward to future hearings regarding digital theft in both the Senate and the House.