Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is preparing to perform some surgery on the controversial Protect-IP Act now pending in the Senate.
The Democrat from Vermont said today that one of the bill's most hotly debated components -- a provision allowing judges to order Internet service providers to block certain domain names -- could be revised. “As I prepare a managers’ amendment to be considered during the floor debate, I will therefore propose that the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied before implemented, so that we can focus on the other important provisions in this bill, which are essential to protecting American intellectual property online, and the American jobs that are tied to intellectual property,” he said in a statement posted on his site.
The Protect-IP Act -- like its companion in the House, the Stop Online Piracy Act -- provides for court orders banning ad networks and payment processors from doing business with “rogue” sites, or dedicated to infringement. The proposals also provide for court orders banning search engines from returning certain results.
The original version of the bills contain provisions for orders banning Internet service providers from putting traffic through to certain URLs. That provision is especially controversial for several reasons: It could result in the censorship of completely legitimate sites that are wrongfully identified as “rogue.” A U.S. decision to tinker with the domain name system could potentially put the entire Web architecture at risk. And it likely would be ineffective -- at least for sophisticated users -- because even if ISPs filtered out domains, users could still reach the sites by typing in the numeric IP addresses.
Leahy's statement, therefore, is drawing much attention from critics of the bills. The early reaction by digital rights groups is that revising the DNS blocking provisions is a positive, but that the legislation is still problematic. “We appreciate the action Chairman Leahy is taking to improve his legislation,” Public Knowledge said in a statement. “Even with that change, however, the bill would still be unacceptable. The definitions in the bill are still far too sweeping, it still grants too much enforcement power to private parties, and still confers inappropriate blanket immunity for private companies.”
Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood added that the bill is “still troubling.” But, he said, “We are glad to see that the strong public opposition has moved the conversation in this direction.”