Senate Panel Approves Protect IP Act

WASHINGTON — A Senate panel has approved a bill that would allow the Justice Department to seize overseas domains suspected of infringement.

The Protect IP Act 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.

Copyright owners and other backers of the legislation say that online piracy cuts into their profits and kills jobs. Opponents say that the legislation threatens free speech by providing the government a way to silence critics by branding them as copyright pirates.

Before the bill can be passed in the full Senate, it must overcome opposition from Sen. Ron Wyden who is expected to hold the bill.