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Google, Yahoo join opposition to rogue website legislation

Contend that proposed SOPA and Protect IP Act legislation would create uncertain new liabilities

November 15, 2011 02:35 PM ET

Computerworld - Google, Yahoo, Facebook and several other large Web companies today joined a growing chorus of strong opposition to proposed legislation that aims to curb online IP and copyright theft by foreign sites.

The opponents contend that the two proposed laws, the Stop Online Piracy Act (H.R. 3261) and the PROTECT IP Act (S.968), would result in Internet censorship.

Critics say both bills are overly broad and mostly serve the interests of Hollywood and the U.S. music industry.

SOPA, currently winding its way through the U.S. House of Representatives, has drawn the most ire because it is widely seen as the most draconian and caters more to the entertainment industry than its U.S. Senate counterpart.

In a letter sent to the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Google, Yahoo and others expressed concern over the legislation's "new uncertain liabilities" and "private rights of action."

While the companies agree that new enforcement tools are needed to combat rogue websites dedicated to copyright infringement and counterfeiting, they say proposed bills go too far.

"We are concerned that these measures pose a serious risk to our industry's continued track record of innovation and job creation, as well as to our Nation's cybersecurity," the letter read. "We cannot support these bills as written and ask that you consider more targeted ways to combat foreign 'rogue' websites."

The Protect IP Act was introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), while SOPA is sponsored by Lamar Smith (R-VA), John Conyers (D-MI), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Howard Berman (D-CA) and several co-sponsors.

Both bills aim to combat what their supporters say are rogue websites based outside the U.S that focus on the illegal sale of copyrighted content and counterfeit U.S. goods such as prescription drugs.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) currently allows copyright owners and IP owners to ask sites like YouTube, Facebook or EBay to take down content that are believed to violate copyright and IP protection laws.

DMCA does not hold ISPs directly responsible for the content on their networks. Both the Protect IP Act and SOPA would hold them directly responsible for hosting such content on their sites.

SOPA would let content owners get court orders requiring that ISPs and search engine companies like Google block access to entire websites that content owners deem are violating copyright and IP laws.

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

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