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U.S. Lawmakers Told Stronger Methods Needed to Stop Web Piracy

U.S. law enforcement agencies need stronger methods to crack down on so-called rogue websites, which sell stolen content and copycat products, a U.S. government official told lawmakers today.

Congress could grant the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the authority to request a court order requiring credit card companies and payment processors such as PayPal Inc. to stop providing services to the illegal websites, Maria Pallante, the acting U.S. register of copyrights, said in prepared testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

She said legislation also could prevent U.S. advertising networks from placing ads on such websites.

“The Copyright Office believes that copyright enforcement against the operators of rogue websites could be enhanced and improved with mechanisms that follow the money within the Internet ecosystem,” Pallante said.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, plans to reintroduce a bill that would make it easier for U.S. authorities to close websites that sell pirated content and products on the Web.

In November, federal courts ordered the seizure of 82 websites alleged by authorities to have sold counterfeit goods, including fake Coach Inc. (COH) and Timberland Co. (TBL) products, the Justice Department said.

Pallante said the issue of what role Internet-service providers should have in enforcing laws against rogue websites requires “further investigation and analysis.” She said it’s a “legitimate question” whether search engines “should be involved in solving the rogue website dilemma.”

Search Engines

“Unfortunately, search engines routinely point people to rogue websites, including in situations where the customer is looking for a legitimate site,” Pallante said. “In fact, sometimes the illegitimate sites appear much higher in search results, displacing authorized sources of copyrighted content.”

Frederick Huntsberry, chief operating officer of movie studio Paramount Pictures Corp., told lawmakers that “every single film we distribute is promptly stolen and then illegally made available online without creating any jobs, without reinvesting any revenue in the creation of new films, without paying taxes, and without contributing to the U.S. economy.”

David Sohn, senior policy counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, said a recent federal operation targeting 10 child-pornography websites that led to the inadvertent seizure of a number of lawful sites is a “cautionary tale” in U.S. law enforcement’s current approach to anti-piracy.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement “had not thoroughly ensured that the action it was taking was narrowly tailored to the criminal actors, and the result silenced protected speech and harmed the reputations of innocent parties,” he said in prepared testimony.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Engleman in Washington at eengleman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Allan Holmes at aholmes25@bloomberg.net

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