Entertainment industry urges Senate to pass anti-piracy bill

The letter was signed by the Motion Picture Association of America and its six member studios, the Independent Film and Television Alliance, the National Association of Theatre Owners and Deluxe Entertainment Services Group.

The Protect IP Act would give the Justice Department the authority to shut down websites "dedicated to" copyright or trademark infringement.

But Internet freedom advocates argue the measure would give the government too much power to censor websites. 

Sen. Ron WydenRon WydenOvernight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas US wins aerospace subsidies trade case over the EU Wells CEO Stumpf resigns from Fed advisory panel MORE (D-Ore.) placed a hold on the bill in May. 

"I understand and agree with the goal of the legislation, to protect intellectual property and combat commerce in counterfeit goods, but I am not willing to muzzle speech and stifle innovation and economic growth to achieve this objective," he said in a statement announcing his hold. "The collateral damage of this approach is speech, innovation and the very integrity of the Internet."

The film and television groups dismissed the free speech concerns of the bill's critics.

"Freedom of expression is not alone among the core values we must protect online," they wrote. "If we want the online environment to reach its fullest social and economic potential, the Internet cannot be lawless."

The groups argued the bill would give law enforcement new powers without infringing on anyone's free speech rights, and noted that it focuses on websites primarily devoted to providing infringing content and is not meant to punish people who accidentally run afoul of copyright law.  

"The real threat to freedom of expression, to American innovation, and to robust economic growth comes when thieves are allowed to steal the products of our most creative people and companies without fear of laws or consequences," the groups wrote.

The bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has said he plans to introduce a House version this month.