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US lawmaker asks Reddit for ideas on website seizures

Zoe Lofgren looks to crowdsource legislation focused on due process and free speech rights in copyright seizures

By , IDG News Service
November 19, 2012 04:40 PM ET
Zoe Lofgren

IDG News Service - A U.S. lawmaker has asked users of Reddit for their ideas about legislation to address the controversial recent practice by two U.S. agencies of seizing websites for alleged copyright infringement.

U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said Monday she is considering legislation to address free expression and due process concerns with the website seizures by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the past two years, the two agencies have seized about 1,500 websites they accused of selling pirated digital goods or counterfeit products.

Users of Reddit, a popular social news site, showed a "strong dedication to free expression" during a debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act, Lofgren said in a statement. SOPA, defeated after millions of Internet users protested earlier this year, would have expanded the DOJ's powers to seize websites for alleged copyright infringement.

Reddit was one of the first sites to announce it would go black for a day to protest SOPA and the Protect IP Act, a similar bill. With Reddit's involvement in the SOPA debate, "I thought I would attempt an experiment: crowdsourcing a legislative proposal on Reddit," Lofgren said.

Lofgren will consider proposals from Reddit users in the drafting of legislation, she said.

Lofgren's move toward introducing legislation shouldn't be seen as an endorsement of the seizures, she said.

"Although I am considering introducing a bill on domain name seizures for infringement, that does not mean I accept the practice as legal or constitutional," she said. "Nonetheless, since these seizure actions are occurring, I thought it worthwhile to explore a legislative means providing appropriate protections for free expression and due process."

Critics of the seizures have said the DOJ and ICE give website owners no notice before seizing the sites. In some cases, the websites seized may include blog posts, discussion boards or other material protected by U.S. free speech rights, critics have said.

Supporters of the seizures, including many in the U.S. entertainment industry, have argued that the seizures are necessary to stem rampant copyright infringement online.

New legislation from Lofgren would focusing on requirements that the agencies provide notice to website owners and an opportunity for them to defend against a seizure, she said.

Four Reddit users had submitted comments as of Tuesday afternoon.

"Domain Name seizures should be made completely illegal, with no compromises or exceptions," one Reddit user wrote. "The government has taken down countless websites across the internet with absolutely no due process with only a judge's signature on a piece of paper with most of the evidence for the take down coming from the biased entertainment industry."

The Motion Picture Association of America, a supporter of the seizures, commended Lofgren for reaching out to people on copyright issues.

"While we may not agree with Representative Lofgren on all issues relating to protecting creative works from theft, we do support her efforts to engage more voices in the conversation," an MPAA spokeswoman said.

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