updated 08:00 pm EST, Thu December 8, 2011
Bipartisan OPEN Act would target finance, not bans
A bipartisan bill (PDF) drafted by Democrat Senator Ron Wyden and Republican Congressman Darrell Issa could provide a potentially much less controversial alternative to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, or OPEN, would use the ITC to investigate claims that sites are primarily for pirates. It could then make a cease-and-desist order and only then bring in the Department of Justice for an injunction, such as cutting off ad revenue and those processing income.
All the ITC judges would have to be veterans with at least seven years of legal experience, none of which could be pulled unless there was "good cause." Administrative Law Judges at the ITC often manage technical patent disputes and should be much more knowledgeable, OPEN Act advocates have said.
Google has already said it would endorse the bill. During the earlier SOPA hearing at a committee, Google's representative argued that it was smarter to "follow the money" and target specific sites where piracy is the main goal. Under the common interpretations of the law, officials could block a site in the whole US on short notice even if copyright-infringing material was only a small or even user-submitted part of the overall site, possibly leading to sites like Etsy or Flickr being forced offline.
How OPEN will be taken by the legislature, or by media outlets like the MPAA and RIAA, isn't certain without examination. The MPAA has usually taken a hardline stance, arguing that that censoring sites entirely was necessary to prevent piracy. It has hinted that SOPA might be softened, but it may be reluctant to focus solely on punitive economic steps rather than trying to kill access altogether.
Critics of SOPA have pointed out that it might be objectionable even if there weren't questions of overreach on the web. Many note that requiring Internet providers to block sites would violate DNSSEC, or a US government initiative to prevent domain name-related hacking attempts. MPAA representatives during hearings claimed not to know of the effect the bill would have on DNSSEC. [via CNET]