There has been significant controversy over online copyright protection and laws to protect the rights of copyright owners on the internet. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) proposed the Stop Online Piracy Act, which was supported by the entertainment industry and decried by Internet companies like Google, Facebook, web host 1&1 and even the sports media company SB Nation. Online encyclopedia even blocked access to its website on Wednesday to show their opposition. The law would allow the US Department of Justice to shut down an entire website and freeze the assets of the company that owns the website if a complaint of copyright infringement is filed. The decision to take such actions would be made by an unelected official. The bill would employ a DNS blocking system to block websites from entering the US.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) have introduced the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, also known as the OPEN Act as a possible alternative to this law. Issa and Wyden are supported by senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.), and representatives Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), John Campbell (R-Calif.), Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas), Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo). OPEN would place the International Trade Commission in charge of adjudicating complaints against foreign websites. The president could overrule the ITC, but a US Court could not. The exception to this rule is if a US plaintiff and a foreign defendant agreed to have their dispute adjudicated in a US court.

OPEN requires that both the defendant and the domain registry being used by the defendant be located overseas for ITC adjudication to take effect. Although SOPA could be used against both US and foreign defendants, it does not appear that OPEN would apply to any US-based website. OPEN would still require banks and payment processing firms in the US to freeze funds of foreign companies that do not prevail before the ITC. This obligation would not apply to foreign financial institutions, which according to some critics may lead to US companies losing the business of foreign firms. OPEN also requires that in order for a website to be taken down it must be engaged in “business directed to residents of the United States and has only limited purpose or use other than engaging in infringing activity and whose owner or operator primarily uses the site to willfully engage in infringing activity.”

The act is supported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Consumer Electronic Association. Facebook and Google. It is opposed by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Copyright Alliance. The Copyright Alliance’s executive director Sandra Aistars said the OPEN Act was “impractical for individual artists and creators.” (A copyright owner wishing to take action against a site would have to argue in Washington and wait up to 18 months for a hearing.) In response to this, Rep. Issa said “The ITC is well-regarded as one of the most efficient ways to providing relief to those who import patented and other counterfeit goods.. They have a record of efficiency and speed.” Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs for the Motion Picture Association of America Michael O’Leary said in an amicus brief that the bill “allows companies profiting from online piracy to advocate for foreign rogue websites against rightful American copyright holders. It even allows notification to some of these companies if they want to help advocate for rogue websites.”

MPAA believes that OPEN would not be harsh enough on The Pirate Bay, a website that offers “torrents” of copyrighted material. Issa stated that OPEN would be effective on The Pirate Bay, as it could target ad networks whose ads appear on their site. It is worth noting that torrents are a sort of link to another server with that holds actual content and that to the best of our knowledge The Pirate Bay does not have control over servers with the content. It is also worth noting that although actions legally against Pirate Bay have not curtailed their operation, a copyright holder could right now, without additional legislation complain to the Internet providers of the torrent holders for acceptable use policy violations and perhaps sue each one individually in a court of competent jurisdiction.

Calls to Rep. John Campbell’s office for comment have not been returned.

You may reach Rep. John Campbell’s office at 949.756.2244 or by email at http://campbell.house.gov.

Greyson Peltier covers Rep. John Campbell for TPP Journalism. He may be reached at 206.424.5190 or by email at Greyson.Peltier@TPPJournalism.org.