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Senate Committee OKs Domain-Name Seizure for Pirate Websites

The United States inched a procedural step closer Thursday to becoming the world’s internet piracy policeman. The Senate Judiciary Committee, voting 19-0, approved legislation that would let the Justice Department seek U.S. court orders against piracy websites anywhere in the world, and shut them down through the sites’ domain registration. However, it was not likely the measure (.pdf) would reach the lame-duck Senate floor before year’s end, when the legislative session terminates. And the bill’s fate in the House is unclear, if it ever gets that far under a new Republican-controlled chamber. Nevertheless, digital-rights groups said Thursday’s action had some meaning, even if the measure never is adopted. “These lawmakers can show Hollywood they’re on their side,” said Art Brodsky, a spokesman for Public Knowledge, a group that has lobbied strongly against the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. As far as the entertainment industry is concerned, the legislation amounts to the holy grail of intellectual-property enforcement. The recording industry and movie studios and other rights holders have been clamoring for such a capability since the George W. Bush administration. If passed, the Justice Department could ask a federal court for an injunction that would order a U.S. domain registrar or registry to stop resolving an infringing site’s domain name, so visitors to, for example, would get an error message. The bill would direct injunctions at a piracy site’s domain registrar if the registration was through a U.S. company. If not, the Justice Department could serve the court order at the registry for the site’s top-level domain. Registrys for the dot-com, dot-net and dot-org domains are all based in the United States, and thus within the courts’ jurisdiction.

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