Two U.S. lawmakers have released an alternative proposal to two controversial bills intended to crack down on online copyright infringement, and they're asking the Internet community to comment on and suggest changes to the draft bill.
Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, and Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, released a draft version of the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act Thursday and posted a copy at KeeptheWebOpen.com.
The draft, based on a proposal endorsed by three other senators and six other representatives earlier this month, would expand the U.S. International Trade Commission's authority to investigate intellectual-property infringement complaints.
OPEN is an alternative to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), two bills introduced in Congress that would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright owners to seek court orders targeting websites they accuse of infringing copyright.
Opponents of SOPA and PIPA say the legislation lacks strong due-process protections for website owners, and say SOPA is broad enough to allow copyright holders to target U.S. websites with user-generated content, such as YouTube and Twitter.
The new proposal, by using the ITC's intellectual property (IP) enforcement expertise, will make it possible "to go after legitimate cases of IP abuse without doing irreparable harm to the Internet," Wyden said in a statement.
"It is our hope that proponents of other approaches won't just dismiss our proposal, but will instead take this opportunity to engage us on the substance," he added. "Yes, IP infringement is a problem, but the Internet has become such an important part of our economy and our way of life that it is essential for us to get the policies that shape its future right."
At KeeptheWebOpen.com, visitors are able to submit comments, suggest edits and ask questions about the legislation. Visitor comments will provide "invaluable" feedback as the lawmakers fine-tune the legislation, the lawmakers said in a press release.
The Copyright Alliance and the Motion Picture Association of America criticized the OPEN Act, saying it would be ineffective against widespread copyright infringement on foreign websites. The MPAA praised Wyden and Issa for recognizing a need for new enforcement tools, but said the proposal "goes easy on online piracy and counterfeiting."
Moving the venue of copyright complaints from courts to the ITC "places copyright holders at a disadvantage and allows companies profiting from online piracy to advocate for foreign rogue websites against rightful American copyright holders," Michael O'Leary, the MPAA's senior executive vice president for global policy and external affairs, said in a statement. "It even allows notification to some of these companies if they want to help advocate for rogue websites."
SOPA would allow DOJ and copyright holders to seek court orders blocking payment processors and online advertising networks from doing business with foreign sites accused of infringing copyright.
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.
"Butchering the Internet is not a way forward for America," Issa said in a statement. "The OPEN Act empowers owners of intellectual property by targeting overseas infringers while protecting the rights of lawful Internet entrepreneurs and users. The Internet is one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy; keeping it open is critical to job creation and our economic recovery."
The OPEN Act would allow U.S. copyright owners to petition the ITC to investigate cases of illegal digital imports, in a process similar to the current process for investigating infringement cases involving physical goods. The ITC could complete investigations of the worst foreign websites in days, Wyden and Issa said.
The ITC process would be transparent and allow website owners to challenge assertions of copyright infringement, the lawmakers said.
If an ITC investigation finds that a foreign-registered website is "primarily" and "willfully" infringing on the IP rights of a U.S. copyright holder, the commission would issue a cease-and-desist order that would compel payment processors, like Visa and Paypal, and online advertising providers to cease doing business with the foreign sites in question.
The OPEN Act would not block domain names, unlike SOPA and PIPA, Wyden and Issa said. Opponents of SOPA and PIPA say court orders to block domain names could lead to cybersecurity problems as Web users try to circumvent the blocks.
Digital rights group Public Knowledge and trade group the Computer and Communications Industry Association praised the OPEN Act. Public Knowledge called the draft bill a "marked improvement" to SOPA and PIPA because it would shut down the funding for infringing websites without allowing for "vigilante justice."
[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 firstname.lastname@example.org.]