WASHINGTON, D.C.--Torrents and the founders of The Pirate Bay won't be anywhere near the marbled halls of the U.S. Capitol, but their influence will play a part during a hearing taking place here today before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's chairman, has called the hearing to garner testimony from some of the companies that could be asked to accept greater responsibility in the government's antipiracy efforts. Leahy is expected to reintroduce legislation into the Senate this year called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), and he's scheduled appearances by representatives from Visa, GoDaddy, Rosetta Stone, and Verizon.
COICA is designed to speed up the legal process of shutting down U.S. sites accused of illegally trafficking in intellectual property. For overseas sites suspected of illegally distributing copyrighted material, the legislation would hand the government the power to order ad networks, payment transaction companies, and Internet service providers to cut financial ties with the sites, or in the case of ISPs, block the sites from being accessed in this country.
Opponents say COICA is dangerous, arguing that it could empower the government to shut down any site it wanted to silence simply by accusing it of pirating copyright material. One of the most vocal critics is Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who held up Leahy's bill last November just before Congress adjourned for the year. Individual senators are allowed to place holds on pending legislation.
Wyden and Leahy have discussed the bill recently, but Wyden appears committed to continuing his opposition.
Copyright owners say they need stronger government support to help thwart Web sites outside of U.S. jurisdiction. They argue that The Pirate Bay and other similar sites have proven impervious to diplomatic negotiations with the countries where some of them reside. U.S. film, music, and software companies want a means to wall out sites they consider digital invaders. They repeatedly have accused illegal file-sharing sites of undermining the U.S. economy.
Testimony from Verizon and Visa could reveal just how much antipiracy support major ISPs and payment services are prepared to provide.