A top Motion Picture Association executive plans to urge lawmakers on Wednesday to adopt legislation to combat piracy through court-ordered website blocking, something major studios believe is necessary to curb infringement originating outside U.S. jurisdiction.

The MPA seeks legislation that would allow content companies to seek judicial injunctive relief that would require Internet service providers and other intermediaries to disable access to an infringing website.

“We urge Congress to consider reasonable, tailored no-fault injunctive relief as a proven way to combat digital piracy and its negative impact on the creative industries and our economy as a whole,” Karyn A. Temple, senior executive vice president MPA and global general counsel said, according to his prepared remarks for a House subcommittee.

The anti-piracy measure may sound familiar: More than a decade ago, studios pushed for similar elements in House legislation known as the End Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, along with a companion Senate bill. The bills initially gained bipartisan support until a backlash, fueled by Google and other major Internet companies, led to an unprecedented online outcry, including website blockings and warnings that the law would restrict Internet freedom. Lawmakers sidelined the legislation amid opposition, a moment that underscored the growing lobbying power of big tech companies.

Much has changed since then. Google, Meta and Amazon have only grown, as has their lobbying strength, but they have also come under scrutiny from the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission. Lawmakers in Congress have railed against the power of big tech, even as major antitrust and privacy legislation has failed to advance.

The MPA believes the warnings against SOPA were exaggerated and points to other countries that have implemented website blocking without “breaking the Internet,” as one official put it. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore and France allow courts to issue website blocking orders, as do Spain, Denmark and France, Temple noted.

“Countries that have implemented no-fault injunctions to disable access to sites that violate structural frameworks have demonstrated, through clear evidence and several years of data, that this solution is effective in reducing visits to blocked piracy sites and makes users to change their behavior and migrate to legal sites. , paid VOD services,” Temple said in his written comments.

Temple also explained how a no-fault regime works: Rather than sue a piracy website, many of which operate outside U.S. jurisdiction, a copyright holder seeks an injunction directed at intermediaries, such as Internet service providers, who could limit access to infringing materials. ISPs, hosting providers, domain name system providers, content delivery networks, payment processors, social networks and search engines need to “take a much more active role in ensuring that their services are not used to facilitate the activities of these criminal organizations,” Temple said. .

Temple said intermediaries would not be subject to the orders because “they are involved in wrongdoing, but only because they are in a position to mitigate the wrongdoing”. They would also not be held liable or subject to damages to the copyright owner. Rights holders would also have to prove to the court that a website is “dedicated to copyright infringement.”

Temple also said such injunctive relief should come with due process protections, including notification of alleged piracy sites and the ability of intermediaries to oppose a court order. The court, she said, would consider the “potential burden on intermediaries and whether disabling access to the website would have a negative impact on either party (including, for example, the public’s interest in accessing non-infringing material).”

A Google spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment. Matthew Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, who has in the past opposed court website blocking orders, also plans to testify at Wednesday's hearing. FilmColony's Richard Gladstein also appears.

The hearing is focused on digital copyright piracy and is before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet.

No website-blocking bill is on the table, and in the DC lobbying world, the safest bet is that Congress will do nothing. Aside from antitrust and privacy legislation, lawmakers have yet to resolve a two-decade battle over net neutrality, leaving it to a seesaw of FCC orders and reversal of orders depending on the administration.

In the aftermath of SOPA, MPA and other content groups stopped lobbying for important anti-piracy legislation and instead sought cooperative agreements with Internet providers, payment processors, and advertisers. Studios in 2020 scored a significant legislative victory when Congress, in a year-end funding bill, included a measure to make it a crime to operate a pirated streaming service. Meanwhile, Google, once a major foe of entertainment industry lobbyists, was praised by MPA President Charles Rivkin last year. He he wrote that Google “removed a substantial number of piracy-related domains from its search results in these countries to help effectively comply with court orders requiring ISPs to block access to piracy sites.”

Temple argued that in countries where website blocking exists, there has been an “appropriate balance between protecting the copyrights of those who seek to profit from piracy and respecting the rights of those affected by blocking orders, including accused infringers, intermediaries and the general public.”

She cited a 2019 Carnegie Mellon study that shows website blocking orders in countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, Portugal and South Korea reduced traffic to piracy domains and also increased traffic to legitimate sources. The MPA provides funding for Carnegie Mellon's Digital Entertainment Analytics Initiative, but the study's author said the research “was conducted independently without
any editorial oversight or control.”

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