Stop Online Piracy Act Seeks to Block Piracy Websites
By Amy Rossignol – Edited by Charlie Stiernberg
H.R. 3261 – Stop Online Piracy Act
The proposed Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), would vest in the U.S. Attorney General the power to regulate and prevent access to foreign websites infringing on U.S. Intellectual Property (“IP”) rights. The U.S. Attorney General, with court approval, would be able to issue orders to block access to and commercial transactions with the suspected websites.
The bill would grant immunity from liability to Internet service providers, payment network providers, advertising services, or domain name registries that choose to voluntarily block or end affiliation with a website suspected of being “dedicated to theft of U.S. property.” The bill also seeks to ban any tools designed to circumvent or bypass such measures.
The bill defines an Internet site as a “foreign infringing site” if: (1) a portion or all of the website is a U.S.-directed site with U.S. users; (2) the owner or operator commits or facilitates commission of violations of sections 2318, 2319, 2319A, 2319B, 2320, or chapter 90 of title 18 of the United States Code; and (3) the website would be subject to seizure if it were a domestic site.
Having identified a “foreign infringing site,” the Attorney General may, with court approval, issue an order to Internet service providers, search engines, payment network providers, and advertising services to take “technically feasible and reasonable measures,” as defined by the Act, within five days of being served a copy of the order. Upon receiving the order, service providers would have to prevent the domain name of the infringing site (or portion thereof) from resolving to the corresponding Internet Protocol (“IP”) address. Search engines would have to prevent the website from being served as a direct hypertext link. Payment network providers would have to prohibit or suspend their services from completing payment transactions with customers located within the U.S. or subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. And Internet advertising services would have to cease providing advertisements to the foreign infringing website.
While there is general support for the idea of taking action against the general problem of pirating websites, critics are concerned with what they consider to be the overly broad scope of the Act as well as the opportunity for abuse. The Act could catch many widely used websites, including cloud and storage websites, where infringing content might comprise only a small percentage of the website. The immunity to providers who voluntarily take action may also lead to possible harassment, especially since the order can be made before the owner of the website has a chance to respond.
Amy Rossignol is a 1L at the Harvard Law School.