Leahy Offers Major Concession On Online Piracy Bill

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said on Thursday he would remove a controversial provision from his bill that aims to crack down on piracy and counterfeiting on foreign websites.

Leahy told Vermont Public Radio he would be willing to remove language that would allow a court to order service providers to redirect U.S. users away from websites that are primarily used to offer pirated music, movies and other content and counterfeit goods. Critics, which include major tech firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, argue the provision in the Protect IP Act could undermine the integrity of the Internet and efforts to bolster the security of the domain name system. The website-blocking provision is similar to a tool now used by U.S. law enforcement to go after domestic websites that offer pirated or counterfeit products.

"I've authorized my staff to tell ... the other senators that I'm willing to hold that back in the final piece of legislation," Leahy said. "That in itself will remove a lot of the opposition that we now have."

The Senate is set to vote Jan. 24 on whether to allow Protect IP to proceed to the floor for debate. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has been blocking the bill since it was approved by the Judiciary Committee in May.

"I will therefore propose that the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied before implemented, so that we can focus on the other important provisions in this bill, which are essential to protecting American intellectual property online, and the American jobs that are tied to intellectual property," Leahy said later in a statement. "I regret that law enforcement will not have this remedy available to it when websites operating overseas are stealing American property, threatening the safety and security of American consumers. However, the bill remains a strong and balanced approach to protecting intellectual property through a no-fault, no-liability system that leverages the most relevant players in the Internet ecosystem."

Another provision would allow the U.S. attorney general to seek a court order requiring online advertisers and payment processors to stop doing business with foreign websites focused primarily on providing pirated content or counterfeit goods.

A spokesman for Wyden said his boss continues to oppose the legislation. "Unfortunately, simply removing the [web-site blocking] provisions still leaves us with a bill that establishes a censorship regime that threatens speech, innovation, and the future of the American economy," the spokesman said.

A modified version of the website-blocking language still remains in the House version of the online piracy bill, which is known as the Stop Online Piracy Act. The House Judiciary Committee began marking up that bill last month but postponed final action until after lawmakers return from their holiday break next week.

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