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Patrick and the Pirates: The Fate of the Protect IP Act

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Poor Patrick Leahy. All the Democratic senator from Vermont (and star of “The Dark Knight”) wants is to pass a far-reaching anti-piracy bill that critics say would trample civil liberties and potentially threaten the entire Internet’s fundamental security structure. But nobody will let him. By “nobody,” we mean Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who last month placed a procedural hold on Leahy’s Protect IP Act the same day that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, gave it unanimous approval. Wyden—who is from the Pacific Northwest and thus presumably spends all his free time farming organic root vegetables and distributing socialist leaflets—did the same thing last year when Leahy introduced the similar Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. But Wyden felt no better about the new bill than he did about its predecessor. As the old saying goes, you can put lipstick on the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, but it’s still the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act.

Protect IP would empower the U.S. Department of Justice to shutter domestic websites that host copyright-infringing content. (To get technical, COICA would have given the Justice Department the right to seize the domains of offending sites. Protect IP would allow Justice to pursue court orders forcing service providers to block access.) The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are among the entertainment industry groups that have lobbied for the bill, arguing that such legislation is needed to combat piracy of their members’ work. On Tuesday, the Writers Guild of America East—which has occasionally split from the performers’ unions on technology issues such as net neutrality—offered support for Protect IP in a two-hour briefing on Capitol Hill. The Motion Picture Association of America and most other industry groups also favor Protect IP.

But increasingly, those groups find themselves in the minority. On the same day as the WGAE hearing, the progressive activist organization Demand Progress issued a list of 40 individuals and organizations that oppose the bill, among them Google, the American Library Association, Human Rights Watch, and the editorial boards of the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times. In an editorial last week, The New York Times condemned the bill as ineffective and overreaching, writing, “If protecting intellectual property is important, so is protecting the Internet from overzealous enforcement.”

Wyden’s hold will hold for now, but it doesn’t kill Protect IP—which, like kittens, freedom, and not much else, enjoys broad bipartisan support in the Senate. An unlikely but not impossible cloture vote could free the bill to move to the Senate floor, where it would likely win approval. And Leahy and his supporters appear dedicated to getting legislation along these lines passed sometime in the near future, no matter what the name of it may be.

Pictured: Sen. Patrick Leahy (Photo: Getty Images)

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Comments

Suppose Senator Wyden wrote a book, and that book was downloaded and given away on the Web for nothing? I wonder how he'd feel when there were no laws to protect his work?

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