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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.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., turned to the online community on Reddit last month for help with legislation she is drafting to try to slow down the government’s seizure of website domains accused of copyright infringement.

Many of the social news site’s notoriously outspoken users were grateful for the opportunity to weigh in again on the issue of domain name seizures. Earlier this year, Reddit helped rally opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act, legislation aimed at strengthening the Justice Department’s ability to shut down foreign websites that violate U.S. copyright laws. The resulting protests on sites including Wikipedia and Google made “SOPA” a household term.

“People are meant to be innocent until proven guilty,” Reddit user Tipaa said to Lofgren. “Taking a website down or seizing a domain name should be a last resort, opposed to a standardized knee-jerk reaction.”

Lofgren, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee who represents a Silicon Valley district, is not the first politician to engage with Reddit. But she might be the lawmaker whose views hew closest to the site’s users. She frequently takes the side of Internet activists and Web companies against content creators and government agencies that enforce copyright laws.

Most of the people commenting on her Reddit post were united in opposition to “Operation In Our Sites,” the ongoing effort by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to identify and shut down domains that are accused of online piracy or copyright violations. Lofgren agrees with their stance, and she is one of only 41 members of Congress who voted against the PRO-IP Act of 2008 that authorized the seizures.

“There are some who argue, and I think there are reasonable arguments to be made, that the way Operation In Our Sites is being operated now violates the constitutional constraints,” the California Democrat told CQ Roll Call in an interview last week. “We ought to have clear standards so we know the Constitution is being adhered to.”

Under Operation In Our Sites, ICE has seized 1,630 domains, 684 of which have been forfeited to the government. The 2008 law authorizing the program was the result of a lobbying effort by content creators — including Hollywood and others in the entertainment industry and software companies — who wanted more- aggressive online copyright enforcement. They argue that piracy costs American companies billions of dollars in revenue a year and results in thousands of lost jobs.

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