Online piracy proposal could affect local websites

Online piracy proposal could affect local websites
SEATTLE --Congress is mulling a new online copyright proposal that could criminalize some of your favorite websites.

The newly-introduced Stop Online Piracy Act would require Internet providers to block and blacklist sites, both domestic and foreign, that sell bogus products or violate copyrights.

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing last week on the act - known as SOPA. The stated purpose of this proposed federal legislation is "to promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property." The target of the legislation is foreign-based websites that violate copyright and traffic in pirated goods.

Introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., on Oct. 26, SOPA empowers the U.S. attorney general to seek a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction or an injunction against any foreign-based websites that are infringing on copyrighted material.

It also requires Internet service providers to take steps to prevent their users from accessing these infringing sites. And it says Internet search engines, "payment network providers" and "Internet advertising services" must quit doing business with these sites.

Such measures would likely dry up the economic incentives and silence these foreign infringing sites. In his introductory remarks, Smith, who is also chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, emphasized the importance of SOPA to protect U.S. copyrights from rogue foreign websites.

"The problem of rogue websites is real, immediate and widespread," he said. "It harms all sectors of the economy."

Proponents of the bill say it will protect trademark owners and consumers against counterfeit and unsafe products such as fake prescription medicines, while many website owners feel the new law would freeze online expression.

Federal copyright laws already exist, but Smith said they don't go far enough.

"It doesn't protect trademark owners and consumers from counterfeit and unsafe products like fake prescription medicines and mis-branded drugs," he said.

While few are arguing in favor or mis-branded drugs, some website owners worry the bill could chill innovation and may infringe on freedom of speech

Ben Huh owns the wildly popular "I Haz Cheezburger" Network and said the bill could criminalize what he considers non-criminal behavior. He also worries about the financial impact the law could have on tech companies around the country.

"You will see investors pull out of this market," Huh said. "You will see startups fail. You will see potential jobs, especially in the tech-heavy Northwest, go away."

Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott, whose district represents man tech companies, is taking a wait-and-see approach to the bill. A spokesperson said McDermott wants to see changes to the way the bill is currently written.

No date has been set for a vote on the bill.