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Lawmakers seek alternative to Stop Online Piracy Act

Opponents of the legislation also complain that sponsors are railroading it through Congress

By , IDG News Service
November 15, 2011 03:20 PM ET

IDG News Service - U.S. lawmakers opposed to a controversial copyright enforcement bill scheduled for a hearing Wednesday are working on alternative legislation that would be more narrowly focused on infringing websites, two opponents of the bill said.

Representatives Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, are working on an alternative to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the two said Tuesday.

Instead of targeting the Internet's domain name system, as SOPA does, an alternative approach could be to set up a copyright-infringement complaint process modeled after the U.S. International Trade Commission's (ITC) patent infringement investigations, Issa said during a press conference with other SOPA opponents.

The ITC takes patent infringement complaints from U.S. companies and can bar products from being imported into the U.S. if a product is found to infringe a U.S. company's patent. The ITC conducts administrative hearings where both sides can present their case before the commission rules.

SOPA will allow copyright owners to bring court cases against any website that they don't believe is doing enough to police infringement, Issa and other opponents of the legislation said. The legislation, if passed, would require websites to be copyright police, and overturn the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's process requiring copyright owners to submit notices of infringement to websites and ask for the infringing material to be taken down, critics said.

The legislation could significantly slow the growth of the Internet in the U.S., Lofgren said. "The implications for our economy, for innovation, and for job creation would be dire," she added.

SOPA, introduced Oct. 26, would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders to stop domain name registrars, online ad networks, search engines and payment processors from doing business with foreign websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement.

SOPA would also allow copyright holders to seek court orders to block allegedly infringing websites in the U.S. and elsewhere, if online advertising networks and payment processors refuse to stop supporting the alleged infringers at the request of the copyright owners.

Critics of the legislation also complained that the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee appears to be fast-tracking the bill before opposition can build. At a 10 a.m. hearing Wednesday, five of six witnesses are likely to speak in favor of SOPA, with only Google opposed. Witnesses the Motion Picture Association of America, trade union the AFL-CIO and pharmaceutical company Pfizer have all voiced support for the bill.

No public interest groups, Internet engineers or human rights groups have been invited to the hearing, said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights group. "This is really being railroaded, without a full public debate," she said.

Backers of the bill disputed many of the concerns, saying critics were exaggerating the bill's impact on the Internet.

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