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IDG News Service - Sponsors of the controversial U.S. Stop Online Piracy Act defended the legislation Wednesday, saying the proposal is needed to shut down websites trafficking in billions of dollars worth of online piracy.
Opposition to the bill, called SOPA, is fueled by the desire of giant Internet companies to protect their profit margins, said Representative Melvin Watt, a North Carolina Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation. Opposition to the bill is "really about the bottom line" of Internet companies, Watt said during a U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill.
Some opponents' claims that SOPA will kill the Internet or result in widespread censorship of the Web are exaggerations, Watt said. "It is beyond troubling to hear the hyperbolic charges that this bill will open the floodgate to government censorship," he said. "I start from the premise that Internet freedom does not and cannot mean Internet lawlessness."
The legislation, which would enlist online advertising networks, payment processors, Internet service providers and search engines in copyright enforcement, is needed, said Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and main sponsor of SOPA. Current copyright laws don't adequately protect U.S. companies against foreign sites offering infringing and counterfeit products, he said.
"We cannot continue a system that allows criminals to disregard our laws and import counterfeit and pirated goods across our physical borders," Smith added. "The problem of rogue websites is real, immediate and widespread. And its scope is staggering. One recent survey found that nearly one-quarter of global Internet traffic infringes on copyrights."
Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat and opponent of SOPA, asked a representative of the Motion Picture Association of America how many sites the organization would like to see shut down "in order to say you were successful."
"Is it dozens, is it hundreds, is it thousands?" Lofgren asked. "Do you have any idea of the scope of the number of sites?"
The Pirate Bay is one such site, said Michael O'Leary, the MPAA's senior executive vice president for global policy. "There are multiple sites out there," he said. "The problem is evolving and changing. I cannot sit here right now and tell you in good faith that I know what that number is. What I do know is that there are literally hundreds of sites out there that are engaging in this activity."
Another opponent told lawmakers that SOPA's focus on websites that "enable or facilitate" copyright infringement could open up many legitimate sites to copyright complaints and could lead to court orders effectively shutting them down. SOPA allows the DOJ and copyright holders to look at a "portion" of a site to determine whether it enables or facilitates infringement, said Katherine Oyama, copyright policy counsel at Google.
A U.S. e-commerce site with dozens of suppliers could have its payment processing service and advertising network shut down if it unknowingly has one supplier that providers counterfeit goods, Oyama said.