PROTECT IP Act Would Grant Swift Domain Seizures

WASHINGTON — Legislation that would allow the Justice Department to seize domains suspected of infringement and force search engines to stop returning results of them is back on the table.

The PROTECT IP Act also would allow copyright holders to seek court orders on their own without waiting for government agencies to intervene on their behalf and allow court orders against third parties providing services to infringing sites.

Under the act, third parties, including "interactive computer services" and "servers of sponsored links," would be forced to cease linking to websites suspected of infringement.

This portion of the act, formally called the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, would be particularly menacing to online companies because it would affect potentially any service or web page where a URL of a suspected infringer might turn up.

"Despite some salient differences in the new version, we are no less dismayed by this most recent incarnation than we were with last year's draft," says Abigail Phillips, an Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney, referring to COICA, or the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act.

"Consider whether Viacom would have bothered to bring a copyright infringement action against YouTube — with the attendant challenges of arguing around the DMCA safe harbors — had it had this cause of action in its arsenal," she says. "The act includes language that says it's not intended to 'enlarge or diminish' the DMCA's safe harbor limitations on liability.

"But make no mistake, rights holders will argue that safe harbor qualification is simply immaterial if a site is deemed to be dedicated to infringement."

Full text of the Protect IP Act of 2011 is available here.