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Lofgren Looks to Slow Down Domain Name Seizures

Mario Tama/Getty Images
At the start of this year, protesters helped derail the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would have strengthened the Justice Department’s ability to shut down websites violating copyright laws. Lofgren is set to introduce legislation to address the concerns of such protesters.

“Because intellectual property is a valuable asset to both the inventor and American economy as a whole, Congress must ensure that IP enforcement is made a top priority for this and future administrations,” House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said at the time of the bill’s overwhelming passage.

But since widespread protests derailed SOPA in January, advocates of more-aggressive action against online piracy have become noticeably quiet, presumably concerned about another grass-roots backlash. The PRO-IP Act was sponsored by many of the same lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee who backed SOPA, including Smith and incoming chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va. Smith’s office had no comment for this article, while Goodlatte’s office did not respond to queries.

Before SOPA, content creators rarely experienced much opposition to their calls for expanded online enforcement. Content creators have struck a more conciliatory tone recently, with Christopher J. Dodd, the former Connecticut senator who now serves as president of the Motion Picture Association of America, calling for greater cooperation between Hollywood and Silicon Valley at a conference this month.

“Hollywood and Silicon Valley have more in common than most people realize, or are willing to acknowledge. Not only does Hollywood work closely with Silicon Valley to create and promote films, Hollywood film and television creators are tech companies,” Dodd said. “It’s time to reject the binary framing of the issues. The future isn’t about choosing between protecting free speech or intellectual property — it’s about protecting both.”

Lofgren concedes that charting a new direction on copyright policy is an uphill battle. But she is wading in nonetheless, with a draft legislative proposal that seeks to add some judicial oversight to the process currently used to seize domains. She wants to require the government to provide notice and an opportunity for website operators to defend themselves before seizing or redirecting their domain names.

“The thinking is, obviously it’s not going to pass anytime soon,” she said. “But it’s a marker out there. And if we can get some Republican co-sponsors and if we have something that is clearly rooted in the Constitution, maybe we can make some progress.”

The consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, which helped rally opposition to SOPA, has opposed expanding online copyright enforcement. Sherwin Siy, the group’s vice president for legal affairs, said seizing a domain is “not like you’re sticking a padlock on a warehouse. A domain is more than just a place where goods are stored. It’s a hub for speech.

“Physical goods can be held in escrow or in a warehouse and they won’t necessarily decay or degrade,” Siy added. “If you seize a site, you’re shutting it down. You’re stopping a process, as opposed to sequestering something physical that can be restored.”

Lofgren points to the hip-hop blog Dajaz1 and the Spanish sports site Rojadirecta, which were both seized by ICE only to be restored after much legal wrangling, as evidence that the current process doesn’t provide site owners adequate recourse.

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