Alternate ways to fight Internet piracy

So how can you stop the illegal downloads of music, movies, and other content?

Two anti-Internet piracy bills before Congress drew fierce opposition from tech companies and free-speech activists this week, but there is an alternative some opponents are rallying behind: the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act, also known as the OPEN Act.

While the two bills under protest would allow courts to order websites to remove content that violates copyrights, the OPEN Act would put the International Trade Commission, not the Justice Department, in charge of policing foreign sites that sell copyrighted material.


Instead of enabling the Justice Department to obtain a court order and take down these sites, and get them removed from search engines, the OPEN Act would give the trade commission, which is a quasifederal agency, the ability to cut off payment options from organizations peddling pirated content.

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Sponsored by Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican, and Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, the OPEN Act was introduced on the House floor on Wednesday.

That was the same day some 115,000 websites and more than 13 million Internet users participated in a Web protest against antipiracy legislation, according to the Worcester advocacy group Fight for the Future.

David Sohn, general counsel at the nonprofit Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, spoke in favor of the proposed OPEN act, saying that it, “shows that it’s possible to craft a bill that targets the bad actors without a lot of collateral damage.’’

The two controversial bills - the House’s Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, and the Senate’s Protect Intellectual Property Act, or PIPA - are supported by the entertainment industry.


The Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America say the bills would create much needed tools to fight the growth in unauthorized distribution of copyrighted music, TV shows, and movies on the Web. But Internet companies say the bills go too far and amount to government censorship of the Web. Sohn, who opposes both SOPA and PIPA, said that trying to block Internet sites is ineffective, because the Internet is very good at routing people around blockages.

“SOPA and PIPA are like blacking out names in a phone book and leaving the phone connected,’’ he said. “There are still many ways to get to that phone.’’

Sohn and others also call for better international cooperation on law enforcement to arrest and prosecute people selling copyrighted material.

Much of the billions of dollars of pirated content including movies and software is sold from websites based in foreign countries and out of the reach of the US authorities.

Google, which blacked out its logo on Wednesday in protest against SOPA and PIPA, also weighed in in favor of the OPEN Act on its blog, saying, “There are better ways to address piracy than to ask US companies to censor the Internet. The foreign rogue sites are in it for the money, and we believe the best way to shut them down is to cut off their sources of funding.’’


Massachusetts Representative Edward J. Markey, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said this week that he is in favor of an expansion of antipiracy efforts to include committees with a more natural purview on the issue than the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, authored SOPA.

“It is essential that antipiracy legislation under consideration in Congress is scrutinized for its impacts on legitimate online content and the workings of the Web,’’ Markey said in a statement sent to the Globe. He said Congress should examine “this important issue, including exploring alternatives and amendments and the larger issue of how to halt online piracy without harming the Internet.’’

But others say more regulation isn’t the answer.

“We’ve taken the open route, no digital rights management,’’ said Allen Noren, vice president, online, of O’Reilly Media, a technical publisher with a large office in Cambridge that went dark Wednesday in protest of SOPA and PIPA. “We trust our customers to do the right thing.’’

Michael B. Farrell of the Globe staff contributed to this report. D.C. Denison can be reached at