Leahy Floats Change to Hollywood-Backed Anti-Piracy Measure

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said he may seek to revise a Hollywood-backed anti-piracy bill that has drawn objections from Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and other Internet companies.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in an interview yesterday with Vermont Public Radio that he’s willing to hold back a requirement in the bill that would force Internet-service providers, when served with a court order, to block access to non-U.S. websites that offer pirated content and counterfeit goods.

The full Senate is scheduled to hold a procedural vote on the measure, the Protect IP Act, on Jan. 24. Leahy said in an e-mailed statement after yesterday’s interview that he’s preparing an amendment proposing that the ISP provision be studied before it is implemented.

“I regret that law enforcement will not have this remedy available to it when websites operating overseas are stealing American property, threatening the safety and security of American consumers,” Leahy said in the e-mail, adding that the bill retains a “strong and balanced approach” to protecting intellectual property.

The Senate measure, which has more than 40 Senate co-sponsors, was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in May. Leahy didn’t address other provisions of the bill, which include letting the Justice Department seek court orders requiring search engines, payment services and advertising networks to block or cease business with non-U.S. sites linked to piracy.

Online Theft

The Protect IP Act and similar House legislation are backed by the movie and music industries as a way to crack down on online theft of their content. Internet companies are waging a campaign to block the legislation, saying it will spur Web censorship and threaten the growth of the U.S. technology industry.

Public Knowledge, a Washington-based digital-rights group, said the bill is unacceptable even with Leahy’s proposed change.

“The definitions in the bill are still far too sweeping, it still grants too much enforcement power to private parties, and still confers inappropriate blanket immunity for private companies,” Sherwin Siy, the group’s deputy legal director, said in an e-mail.

The House Judiciary Committee is set to resume consideration of the House version of the bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, when Congress returns from its recess. The committee hasn’t set a date yet.

The House bill is H.R. 3261, and the Senate bill is S. 968.

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