Supporters of an antipiracy bill introduced into the Senate last year appear ready to put some pressure on one of the legislation's chief opponents.
Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, was instrumental in blocking the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) late last year. COICA was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and passed in that committee unanimously. But it was derailed when Wyden opposed it. Individual senators can place holds on pending legislation.
Since the legislation was introduced very late in the prior congressional session, Wyden's opposition forced supporters to wait until Congress reconvened. Now that Congress is back to work, Leahy has said he will again try to get COICA passed. The bill already has the backing of the major Hollywood film studios and record labels, but a mostly new group of supporters sent a letter today to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, praising him for past antipiracy efforts and asking for his support in getting COICA passed.
Among the companies that signed the letter, Nike, one of Oregon's largest and most influential companies, was at the top of the list. A little lower was Adidas, another large company with operations in Oregon.
Maybe it was a coincidence that Nike was so conspicuous, but either way, COICA backers are sending a message that the bill has heavyweight support. In addition to Nike, some of the other companies or groups that signed the letter included Viacom, NBC Universal, the National Basketball Association, the National Football League, Voltage Pictures (makers of the Oscar-winning film "The Hurt Locker"), Chanel, Burberry Limited, and Major League Baseball.
Copyright owners appear to really want COICA and for good reason. They have battled illegal file sharing for years with little success. They have argued that Internet piracy harms the U.S. economy and kills jobs here. While the studies done on the economic impacts caused by illegal file sharing were questioned by the Government Accountability Office last year, there is some growing support that entertainment companies are ailing. Music sales are down, and last week Sony Corp. announced it will shut down a CD-manufacturing plant in Pitman, N.J. About 300 people will be laid off. Sony once operated three CD-making operations in the United States. It now has one.
COICA would give the government sweeping power to shut down domain names belonging to U.S.-based pirate sites as well as the authority to order Internet service providers to cut off access to similar sites overseas.
The Department of Justice would also have the authority to order credit card companies to stop processing transactions from suspected Web sites and order online advertising services, such as Google, to boot the sites off their ad networks and sever financial ties. One of the underlying themes of COICA is to choke off money-making abilities of pirate sites.
Opponents say the legislation is censorship. This afternoon, Wyden's office released this statement to CNET:
"Senator Wyden has long worked with U.S. industry on combating the trafficking of counterfeit goods like fake shoes and apparel. But going after trade in real merchandise can be done in a variety of effective ways, like inspecting shipping containers at American ports of entry to identify and seize fake merchandise.
"Unfortunately, the content industry has piggybacked on the legitimate efforts of apparel designers to combat counterfeit goods and now threaten the integrity of the Internet as a means to combat intellectual property infringement. The Internet is too important to our economy and to advancing American values to be inappropriately regulated and censored under the guise of protecting IP, which is why Congress and the Administration should be as cautious as it is surgical when it aims its sights on the Internet."
Below is the text of the letter dated January 18, 2011 and addressed to Eric Holder, attorney general, and John Morton, from U.S Immigration & Customs Enforcement.
We run companies large and small that represent diverse aspects of America's intellectual property community. While our employees live in different regions of the country, and work to produce a variety of goods and services, they have several important things in common - they work hard, they are committed to quality and innovation and they welcome competition. However, allowing others to unfairly compete by stealing the ideas, innovations and intellectual property rights created by our employees cannot be tolerated. This theft diminishes our ability to keep and create jobs, and makes it far more difficult to attract the capital needed to invest in new products and services. In order to protect our free enterprise system, and the standard of living it has contributed to our nation, it is critical that we multiply our efforts to identify and punish the criminals who steal what we create and produce.
Thus, we appreciate the effort and energy behind Operation in Our Sites. The actions announced on November 29, 2010 once again demonstrated that, just as in the physical world, prosecutors and courts can judiciously assess evidence and distinguish between legitimate businesses and criminal enterprises that flout the law and profit from the ingenuity of others. We believe that the online marketplace can only work for consumers and creators if there is respect for property rights and the rule of law - and urge you to continue to act against the kinds of domains that you have targeted. Unfortunately, there are far too many sites stealing from our businesses but we believe that your efforts will drive consumers to the many legitimate online ventures and services that we have worked hard to foster and support.
We encourage you to work with your colleagues in the Administration and the Congress toward enactment of the principles central to S. 3804 - the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. The legislation crafted by Senators Leahy and Hatch was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and will undoubtedly be reintroduced this congress. The proposal expounds upon the law enforcement techniques at the heart of "Operation In Our Sites" and will ensure that rogue sites cannot evade U.S. jurisdiction by escaping offshore to foreign-based registrars, registries and country codes in order to peddle stolen American intellectual property back into the U.S. market. In addition, the Leahy-Hatch proposal provides an entirely new level of protection for U.S. rights holders by establishing the legal framework necessary to disrupt the business models of the illicit, offshore sites by starving them of the financing, advertising and access to consumers upon which they depend. The carefully balanced measure would allow American law enforcement officials and U.S. courts to deny thieves the ability to use the Internet to enter the U.S. market and undermine our businesses while reaping financial gain for themselves.
We hope that you will continue dedicating resources to Operation in Our Sites and work toward the Obama Administration's endorsement of the Leahy-Hatch legislation.