House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., unveiled draft legislation on Thursday to counter two controversial bills that would crack down on online piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites.
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The proposal from Issa and Wyden offers a way to curb the rapid growth of pirate and counterfeit websites -- one that counters the Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced last month by House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas., and a similar bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May known as the Protect IP Act.
After initially joining other lawmakers in only an outline of possible alternative approaches last week, Wyden and Issa thought it was important to release draft legislation ahead of a House Judiciary markup of SOPA next week, as well as a website where people can propose changes to their measure. Issa, Wyden, and other critics of SOPA and Protect IP say those bills are too broad and could do more harm than good.
Both SOPA and the Protect IP Act would cut off access to foreign websites dedicated to piracy or counterfeiting. They would allow the attorney general to ask a court to require a service provider to redirect U.S. users away from such sites and require advertisers and payment processors such as PayPal and credit-card companies to stop doing business with them.
The Issa-Wyden draft bill, known as the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, uses a follow-the-money strategy and gives responsibility for implementing the bill to the International Trade Commission instead of the Justice Department.
"Butchering the Internet is not a way forward for America," Issa said. "The OPEN Act empowers owners of intellectual property by targeting overseas infringers while protecting the rights of lawful Internet entrepreneurs and users."
The draft calls for allowing copyright or trademark owners to file a complaint with the ITC against a foreign website that is infringing their intellectual property. It would set up an expedited process for dealing with such complaints.
Public Knowledge Deputy Legal Director Sherwin Siy said the draft answers challenges made by Smith and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Protect IP's author, calling for critics to offer an alternative.
"The draft bill is a marked improvement because it adheres to the successful 'follow-the-money' approach used well to shut down websites in other contexts such as Internet gambling," Siy said. "We hope that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith will cancel the markup of his bill set for next week until the new approach can be fully discussed."
Copyright groups and other supporters of SOPA and Protect IP, however, said the Issa-Wyden draft does not provide them with effective tools to tackle the problem.
"The bad news is that this draft legislation fails to provide an effective way to target foreign rogue websites and goes easy on online piracy and counterfeiting," Motion Picture Association of America Senior Executive Vice President Michael O'Leary said in a statement.
Above, Darrell Issa. Credit: AP.