Lawmakers opposing the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act have introduced alternative legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and 24 co-sponsors introduced the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade (OPEN) Act late Wednesday, the same day many websites went dark in opposition to SOPA and the Protect IP Act, a similar bill in the Senate.
The OPEN Act would allow copyright holders to file complaints about copyright infringement at foreign websites with the U.S. International Trade Commission, which would investigate the complaints and decide whether U.S. payment processors and online advertising networks should be required to cut off funding. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, introduced a Senate version of the OPEN Act in December.
"OPEN is a targeted, effective solution to the problem of foreign, rogue websites stealing from American artists and innovators," Issa said in a statement. "Today's Internet blackout has underscored the flawed approach taken by SOPA and PIPA to the real problem of intellectual property infringement. OPEN is a smarter way to protect taxpayers' rights while protecting the Internet."
By contrast, SOPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders requiring payment processors and ad networks to stop doing business with foreign websites accused by the plaintiffs of copyright infringement. SOPA would also allow the DOJ to seek court orders requiring search engines and possibly other websites to stop linking to sites it accuses of infringing copyright.
SOPA would also give Internet service providers, domain name registrars and other online service providers immunity from lawsuits if they voluntarily cut off service to websites accused of infringing.
Opponents of SOPA and PIPA say the bills don't give owners of foreign websites enough due process and could cut off legitimate free speech on websites that have a mix of content.
But Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican and SOPA lead sponsor, said the OPEN Act wouldn't do enough to stop the billions of dollars in online piracy and counterfeiting that happens every year. The OPEN Act "may make the problem worse," Smith said in a statement.
"The OPEN Act makes the Internet even more open to foreign thieves that steal America's technology and intellectual property without protecting U.S. businesses and consumers," Smith added. "The proposal amounts to a safe harbor for foreign criminals who steal American technology, products and intellectual property."
Among the co-sponsors of the OPEN Act are many of the most vocal opponents of SOPA, including Representatives Zoe Lofgren and Anna Eshoo, both California Democrats; Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican; and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican.
Also sponsoring the bill is Representative Jim Langevin, a Rhode Island Democrat and activist for improved cybersecurity practices.
SOPA would allow the U.S. government and copyright holders to "filter the Internet," while the OPEN Act represents a compromise that will crack down on piracy, Langevin said in a statement.
"Instead of trying to mitigate security, economic, and Internet freedom concerns with broad, over-reaching technical solutions, I support proposals like this one that seek a middle ground for curbing online piracy while protecting American jobs and innovative technologies that have allowed us to remain the world leader online," he added.
The Consumer Electronics Association, a vocal opponent of SOPA, applauded Issa and the other sponsors for introducing the OPEN Act.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.