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Opposition to Stop Online Piracy Act grows

Tech trade groups contend proposed law would unprecedented power to copyright owners

October 31, 2011 05:33 PM ET

Computerworld - A coalition of technology trade groups today joined the growing chorus of voices opposing a recently filed anti-piracy bill that they contend is far too heavy-handed.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the Computers and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and NetCoalition, an association representing major ISPs, jointly sent letter to members of Congress expressing concern over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) legislation introduced last week in the the U.S. House of Representatives.

The bill (HR 3261), sponsored by Lamar Smith (R-VA), John Conyers (D-MI), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Howard Berman (D-CA) and several co-sponsors, is designed to protect U.S. copyright and IP owners against what the authors say is rampant online sales of counterfeit U.S goods and copyright theft by "rogue" foreign sites.

The most controversial portion of the bill would allow copyright holders to ask ISPs and search engine companies to block U.S. access to any site officials say are participating in, enabling or contributing to copyright theft and the sale of counterfeit goods.

The law would allow copyright holders and IP owners to ask payment processing companies such as MasterCard and PayPal, as well as advertising networks, to terminate their services to any site that is they deem is in violation of SOPA.

ISPs and other service providers would be obligated to comply within five days of notification by copyright holders of violators.

Those that comply with the requests would receive full immunity under SOPA. Companies that don't comply with such requests could face legal action from copyright and IP holders.

The proposed law would allow copyright and IP owners to issue requests for service termination if just one page on a site containing thousands of pages is deemed to violate the provisions of the law.

For instance, an auction website with a single listing for a counterfeit would theoretically be in violation of SOPA.

Similar -- and equally controversial -- proposed legislation, the Protect IP Act , is currently working it way through the U.S. Senate.

In the letter sent today, the trade groups said that SOPA would create an "unprecedented private right of action regime for intellectual property."

Markham Erickson, executive director of NetCoalition, said the proposal is so broadly worded and so sweeping in scope that even sites that haven't broken U.S. laws can be shut down with a single notice.

Service providers would be required to block sites based purely on the allegations of a rights holder, Erickson said.

The proposed law as written would provide no recourse or due process for websites that are the target of such actions, he said.

The bill would create new litigation risks for cloud computing companies, social network sites and new technologies that have even the potential of being misused for copyright infringement purposes, Erickson said.

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