PROTECT IP Act Introduced in the Senate

Yesterday, Senators Leahy, Hatch, and Grassley introduced the PROTECT IP Act, a bill that would target “rogue sites” that facilitate and profit from the illegal distribution of intellectual property. This bill is a follow-up to Leahy’s COICA legislation, which passed unanimously out of committee last year but failed to reach the Senate floor for a vote. The legislation offered yesterday presents major improvements from COICA and generally lays out a more balanced approach to fighting online infringement.

Like last year, the legislation would provide the U.S. Department of Justice the ability to target websites whose purpose is the criminal distribution of infringing materials. Unlike COICA, the PROTECT IP Act now calls for the DOJ to bring an in personam action, or against the person as opposed to the original version that called for only an in rem action, or against the thing. Presumably, this was included amid critiques that COICA lacked adequate due process and now, theoretically, it will be easier for a site operator to appeal prior to the website being shut down. Additionally, the PROTECT IP Act narrows the scope of the definition of a rogue site to a website that has “no significant use other than” infringing activities.

Also, new is the bill’s main targets are domain names outside the US since domestic operators are already subject to seizure laws enacted under the PRO-IP Act and have been the target of ICE in recent months. Additionally, the bill adds a private right of action, which while not overly broad, could lead to costly and possibly unwarranted litigation. (Ryan Radia, over at the Technology Liberation Front, has a more comprehensive list of the changes, both good and bad. I encourage you to check it out.)

The problem of “rogue” websites that offer counterfeit and pirated content continues to be a growing problem and I commend the bill’s sponsors for looking into solutions. 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.

American industries that rely on intellectual property rights employ over 19 million people and account for over $5 trillion of U.S. gross domestic product. The entertainment industry is perhaps the most visible victim of online infringement through illegal music downloads and video streaming, but there are countless other industries, including pharmaceuticals, machinery, publishers, and clothing that rely on the protection of intellectual property rights in order to not only thrive, but survive.

Combating online infringement is an important issue and I am looking forward to keeping up with the legislation as it moves through Congress.