Tech groups say online piracy bill would create 'nightmare' for Web and social media firms

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The groups argue the bill would undermine the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA) and create new risk of litigation for cloud service providers, social networks and other new technologies that merely have the potential of being misused by customers.

"In short, this is not a bill that targets 'rogue foreign sites.' Rather, it allows movie studios, foreign luxury goods manufacturers, patents and copyright trolls, and any holder of an intellectual property right to target lawful U.S. websites and technology companies," the letter states.

But Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's Intellectual Property sub-panel, told Hillicon the committee is still open to changing the bill to avoid imposing a burden on tech firms, and flatly rejected the notion it imposes a new regulatory structure on the Internet.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Goodlatte said about the regulation claim, adding that there is "a lot of posturing going on" from stakeholders.

Search engines and social media firms have voiced concern that they would be required to actively police and block links to infringing websites, which they have termed an undue burden. Goodlatte said the current laws for addressing online piracy are badly outdated and that no sector of the Internet will be entirely exempted from taking part in the fight against online piracy.

"We're open to working with them on language to narrow [the bill's provisions], but I think it is unrealistic to think we're going to continue to rely on the DMCA notice-and-takedown provision," Goodlatte said.

"Anybody who is involved in providing services on the Internet would be expected to do some things. But we are very open to tweaking the language to ensure we don't impose extraordinary burdens on legitimate companies as long as they aren't the primary purveyors" of pirated content, he said.

As evidence, Goodlatte pointed to the private right of action provision, which is a significant departure from the Senate's version of the legislation known as the PROTECT IP Act. Unlike the Senate bill, copyright holders won't be able to directly sue intermediaries like search engines to block infringing websites. Instead, both government and rightsholders must receive a court's approval before taking action against third parties.

Goodlatte said the change was made in direct response to concerns raised by the technology community. He said additional changes are welcome and that lawmakers are open to whatever tech firms propose.

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