House Democrat enlists Reddit in pushback against website seizures

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) is taking to the social news website Reddit on Monday to crowd source ideas for legislation that would provide new protections for websites accused of copyright theft.

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Lofgren wants to craft a bill that would stop the government from shutting down a website accused of copyright violations until the owners are given notice and a chance to defend themselves.

Reddit users were one of the driving forces behind the online activism against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) earlier this year, and Lofgren hopes to harness that same energy behind her legislative push.

The California Democrat has been an outspoken critic of the "Operation in Our Sites" effort led by the Department of Justice and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has shut down more than 700 websites accused of peddling knockoff goods and pirated movies, music and TV shows.

Lofgren contends that the government's website seizure operation lacks due process and has taken law enforcement officials to task for mistakenly taking down two innocent websites — the hip-hop site Dajaz1 and the sports-focused site Rojadirecta.

The California Democrats plans to publish a post Monday on Reddit that asks users to submit feedback on how they would craft a bill aimed at protecting website owners from having their sites seized by the government without notice or a chance to prove that the content is legitimate. Lofgren will then use the users' input to put together a bill that she might introduce next Congress.

The Reddit community can share and comment on ideas or links to stories on a range of topics, including politics and technology. Users get to vote up or down on the ideas or stories they like best, and the most popular ones bubble up to the top of the web page.

With tech companies like PayPal based in her district, Lofgren has been skeptical of stringent anti-piracy legislation like SOPA and voiced concern about whether it would prevent new Web services from getting off the ground. Lofgren says she does not condone online piracy, but argues the government's website seizures threatens the freedom of expression online.

"Domain seizures without due process are a form of censorship," Lofgren said in a statement last year. "Our government has seized domains with nothing more than the rubber stamp of a magistrate, without any prior notice or adversarial process, leaving the authors of these sites with the burden of proving their innocence."

The entertainment, pharmaceutical and luxury goods makers have lauded the seizure operation, arguing that pirate websites hurt their bottom lines, jeopardize public safety and threaten American jobs.

Other lawmakers have used the Web to crowd source input from the public on legislation. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) posted a draft of their rival bill to SOPA, the OPEN Act, to an open-source platform last year and let users comment on it.

Reddit has a cult following of devoted users, but gained recognition over the past year for its role in the online protests against SOPA. The social news site blacked out for a day to show its opposition to the anti-piracy bill.

President Obama and a handful of lawmakers, including Lofgren and Issa, have participated in "Ask Me Anything" chats, dubbed as AMAs, on Reddit, which let users participate in question and answer sessions with high-profile figures.