Lawmakers propose alternative to Stop Online Piracy Act

Eleven lawmakers call for the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate copyright infringement complaints

A group of U.S. lawmakers has proposed an alternative to the controversial copyright enforcement legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act, with the draft proposal giving the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) the authority to investigate complaints about copyright infringement on foreign websites.

The draft proposal, unveiled Friday, would allow the ITC to issue cease-and-desist orders to foreign websites that willfully engage in copyright infringement, supporters said. The ITC already investigates patent infringement complaints and can bar infringing products from being imported into the U.S.

Under the proposal, the ITC could also investigate complaints of copyright infringement by foreign websites. Owners of the websites would be invited to present their side to the ITC, and the public would be notified of investigations, as the ITC does in patent investigations. ITC rulings against websites could be appealed to a U.S. appeals court.

The Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders blocking payment processors and online advertising networks from doing business with foreign sites accused of infringing copyright. Opponents of SOPA say the legislation lacks strong due-process protections for website owners and is broad enough to allow copyright holders to target U.S. websites with user-generated content, such as YouTube and Twitter.

"Putting the regulatory power in the hands of the International Trade Commission -- versus a diversity of magistrate judges not versed in Internet and trade policy -- will ensure a transparent process in which import policy is fairly and consistently applied and all interests are taken into account," supporters of the draft wrote in an explanation of the proposal.

Websites dedicated to piracy must be stopped, said Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat and supporter of the alternate proposal. "But the Stop Online Piracy Act's overly broad language will seriously hinder the growth of new businesses, new investments, and new jobs," Eshoo said in a statement. "The economic opportunities and innovation created by the Internet and startups could be crushed under the weight of SOPA."

Eleven U.S. lawmakers have voiced support for the alternate proposal. Supporters include California Representatives Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat, and Darrell Issa, a Republican, as well as Senators Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Maria Cantwell, a Washington state Democrat.

SOPA has support from the Motion Picture Association of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and several other business and entertainment groups.

SOPA would allow the DOJ to seek court orders to stop online ad networks and payment processors from doing business with foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. The DOJ-requested court orders could also bar search engines from linking to the allegedly infringing sites and order domain name registrars to take down the websites and Internet service providers to block subscriber access to the sites accused of infringing.

SOPA would also allow copyright holders to seek court orders requiring online advertising networks and payment processors to stop supporting the alleged infringers if those businesses do not comply with requests from copyright holders. The court orders requested by copyright holders could target U.S. websites and services that enable or facilitate copyright, in addition to foreign websites.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags e-commerceAnna EshoolegislationinternetU.S. International Trade CommissionZoe LofgrenRon Wydenintellectual propertycopyrightU.S. House of RepresentativeslegalMusic and audiogovernmentMaria CantwellvideoDarrell IssaU.S. SenateInternet-based applications and services

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