SOPA: Letters from my Senators

First, Mark Kirk:
Dear Mr. Gleason:

Thank you for contacting me about regulation of the Internet. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond.

The Internet has revolutionized the way we educate, entertain and do business. With the growth of online commerce and interaction, the government’s role in regulating the Internet remains the subject of much debate. Democratic movements in the Middle East and developing nations attribute many of their successes to an unencumbered online community where information is freely exchanged. I believe our economic future depends on a robust online marketplace where goods and ideas can be transferred openly, without government interference.

Lawmakers in Congress are beginning to examine the issue of online consumer privacy. Without consumer consent, companies can collect information from users surfing the web, and use or sell the data to personalize advertisements to these consumers. Committee hearings have been held in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Telecommunications Information Agency (NTIA) to discuss how to best to proceed with legislation that could protect consumers from unknowingly having personal information collected and distributed. While the Senate has not yet considered legislation on the subject, I believe we must strike a careful balance when addressing the issue. Reasonable assurances to protect private information should not overstep boundaries that would over-regulate and hinder job creation and economic growth.

It is also critical that we balance the need for an unfettered online community with the responsibility to prevent widespread theft and copyright infringement of American intellectual property. Entrepreneurs and small business owners are forced to unfairly compete with illegal Internet piracy due to the sale of counterfeit goods and services, often from foreign, rogue websites. This criminal activity costs the U.S. economy billions each year in lost revenue and jobs. To address Internet piracy, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced S. 968, the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP) Act. This legislation provides tools to law enforcement to target these rogue websites by cutting off their mechanisms of financial support. S. 968, for example, would allow the Attorney General – with court approval – to require advertisers and payment facilitators to pull their services from websites violating American intellectual property rights. The PROTECT IP Act passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support on May 27, 2011. The bill currently awaits further action by the full Senate.

Congress must take the time to craft thoughtful legislation that will protect consumers and their constitutional rights, ensure a fair playing field for U.S. businesses, and meet the industry needs to freely grow and innovate. I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind as such legislation advances through the 112th Congress.

Thank you for taking the time to contact me on this issue. Please feel free to contact me at (312) 886-3506 or online at if you have any questions or concerns before Congress or the federal government. It is an honor to serve you in the Senate.

Very truly yours,

Mark Kirk
U.S. Senate

Second, Dick Durbin:

Thank you for contacting me to express your concern about the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property (PROTECT IP) Act of 2011 and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). I appreciate hearing from you.

The bipartisan PROTECT IP Act (S. 968), which was based on last year’s Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, would authorize the Department of Justice to pursue court orders to take action against websites that are dedicated to selling pirated and counterfeit goods. I am a cosponsor of S. 968.

It is important to note that this legislation seeks to address a serious problem without inappropriately restricting Internet freedom. The Justice Department currently lacks tools to effectively enforce anti-piracy and counterfeiting laws against websites that are dedicated to distributing material in violation of these laws.

This legislation seeks to address this problem by enabling the Justice Department to target these websites through court orders, while also providing the websites with the opportunity to petition a court to lift an order. The bill is narrowly tailored so as not to include legitimate websites and it includes important procedural protections to prevent misuse of this authority. For a court order to be issued, the Justice Department must show that the website in question is directed at customers in the United States and that it harms holders of U.S. intellectual property. In addition, the Department is required to promptly serve notice of the action after the filing.

S. 968 provides a narrower definition of a website “dedicated to infringing activities” than the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. In addition, while the PROTECT IP Act would authorize the Attorney General and rights holders to bring actions against online infringers operating a rogue website or domain, the remedies are limited to blocking financial gains of the site but not blocking access. Also, this bill ensures that third-parties (e.g. internet service providers, payment processors, advertising networks) are not overly burdened to comply with an order beyond what is feasible and reasonable.

In May 2011, this bill was approved unanimously by a voice vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate will vote on whether to bring debate to a close on PROTECT IP Act in January 2012.

In the House of Representatives, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), H.R. 3261. This bill has many of the same provisions as the PROTECT IP Act, such as providing the Justice Department with legal tools to prevent foreign websites from selling copyrighted material to American consumers. However, H.R. 3261 has more stringent requirements for third-parties to comply with court orders. This bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Effective enforcement of intellectual property laws is critical to the encouragement of innovation and the creation of jobs. In recent years, we have seen a proliferation of Internet websites that are devoted to the unauthorized distribution and sale of pirated and counterfeit goods. These websites deprive innovators and businesses of revenue and result in the loss of American jobs. In addition, these websites present a public health concern when they sell counterfeit, adulterated, or misbranded pharmaceutical products.

I will keep your views in mind as the Senate considers this issue in the coming months.

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

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