A bipartisan group of House members introduced legislation Wednesday that would boost the government’s authority to disrupt and shutter websites that hawk or host trademark- and copyright-infringing products, including allowing the government to order sites removed from search engines.
Much of the package is similar to a stalled Senate measure known as the Protect IP Act. Both proposals amount to the holy grail of intellectual-property enforcement that the recording industry, movie studios and their union and guild workforces have been clamoring for since the George W. Bush administration.
Both bills allow the Justice Department for the first time to obtain court orders demanding American ISPs to stop rendering the DNS for a particular website — meaning the sites could still be accessible outside the United States. The House bill also allows the Justice Department to order search sites like Google to remove the allegedly infringing site from its search results.
Furthermore, the newest proposal, (.pdf) introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), grants the U.S. attorney general sweeping powers to block the distribution of workarounds that let users navigate to sites that have been blacklisted or had their domain name seized, such as the MafiaaFire plugin on the Firefox browser.
Sherwin Siy, a staff attorney with digital rights group Public Knowledge, said the measure could be interpreted to prevent reporters from writing about DNS workarounds, such as publishing the IP addresses of banned websites. DNS servers translate domain names, such as Wikipedia.org, into IP addresses – but DNS can be bypassed if a user knows the IP address of a site.
“If anybody tells people how they can get around that block, the attorney general can bring an action on them,” Siy said in a telephone interview.
He suggested the government could order news sites to take down stories noting workarounds. ”It’s written pretty broadly,” he added of the bill, officially known as the “Stop Online Piracy Act.”
The anti-workaround provisions of the 79-page proposal, in part, appears to be in response to a white paper from top internet security experts concerned over the fallout if the Justice Department begins ordering American internet service providers to stop giving out the correct DNS entry for an infringing website under the .com, .org and .net domains.
DNS filtering not only causes security problems, it also invites the creation of workarounds, according to the paper written by Steve Crocker of Shinkuro, David Dagon of Georgia Tech, Dan Kaminsky of DKH, Danny McPherson of Verisign and Paul Vixie of Internet Systems Consortium.
Mandated DNS filtering would be minimally effective and would present technical challenges that could frustrate important security initiatives. Additionally, it would promote development of techniques and software that circumvent use of the DNS. These actions would threaten the Domain Name System’s ability to provide universal naming, a primary source of the internet’s value as a single, unified, global communications network.
Moments after the House legislation was introduced, Smith said the bill was needed because “Rogue websites that steal and sell American innovations have operated with impunity,” Smith said in a statement.
The United States, however, has been invoking an asset-forfeiture law to seize generic top-level domains of infringing websites under a new program called “Operation in Our Sites.” It began last year, and the Department of Homeland Security has targeted more than 128 sites, ranging from sites that link to video streams to those that hawk knock-off paraphernalia.
The House bill, like the Senate bill, allows rights holders to seek court orders instructing online ad services and credit card companies from partnering with the infringing sites.
The Smith proposal is set for a hearing Nov. 16 before the House Judiciary Committee, where it is expected to pass and then move to the House floor.
The Senate’s counterpart legislation, however, has been placed on a permanent, procedural hold by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon). Wyden said the Protect IP Act represents a “threat to our economic future.”
Photo: Richard Winchell/Flickr