Under the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, which is currently in the middle of a markup in the House Judiciary Committee, the Department of Justice would be authorized to seek a court order against a so-called rogue foreign website, one "primarily dedicated" to trafficking in stolen intellectual property, such as pirated movies, music or software, or knock-off pharmaceuticals. With that order in hand, Justice could direct Web players such as search engines, Internet service providers, ad networks and payment processors, to sever ties with the overseas site, removing visibility and access while choking off financial support.
Members of the Judiciary Committee spent two full days in December marking up SOPA, considering some 24 amendments. About 60 amendments had been filed ahead of the markup, according to Kim Smith, a spokeswoman for the committee majority. Smith confirmed that the markup will resume "when we return from recess."
A similar but somewhat more limited bill is awaiting consideration before the full Senate. The Protect IP Act cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, and is scheduled next to come up for consideration Jan. 24.
The anti-piracy legislation has set in motion a heated battle between backers of the bills such as the movie and music industries and Web firms such Google and Facebook, who along with open Internet advocates argue that the inevitable result of expanded judicial oversight of the Web, especially when implemented at the behest of commercial interests such as Hollywood, will be a dragnet that will shutter legitimate websites. An alternative measure, dubbed the OPEN Act, which would place the disposition of copyright infringement claims against foreign sites under the purview of the U.S. International Trade Commission, has emerged in the House and Senate.
Both SOPA and the Protect IP Act have racked up significant bipartisan support, and are backed by powerful lobbies with deep pockets, including the Motion Picture Association of America, a leading proponent, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO.
In addition to Google and Facebook, with their relatively small but expanding presence in Washington, open Internet advocacy and consumer rights groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge have been working to galvanize opposition, raising warnings that the measures would lead to censorship of legitimate content and pose threats to the security of the domain name system. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has attached his name to a petition drive opposing the legislation. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently warned that the bill would effectively "criminalize linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself," rhetoric that supporters of the legislation have dismissed as overblown.