WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill on Thursday that would crack down on counterfeit merchandise and pirated products sold online by “rogue Web sites.”
The bill, approved by a vote of 19-0, will advance to the Senate for a vote but it is uncertain whether the leadership will take it up in the truncated lame-duck session. If the Senate were to pass the bill, it would still not be enacted this year because there is no companion bill in the House. The bill will have to be reintroduced in the Senate next year, introduced in the House and pass both chambers before it can head to the president’s desk for his signature.
Still, proponents of the bill saw the Senate committee’s approval as a big step in the right direction.
“Today’s Senate action on legislation to combat online counterfeiting and digital theft is a major step forward for protecting American jobs and consumers,” said David Hirschmann, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center. “Rogue Web sites — those dedicated to selling counterfeit goods and/or pirating copyrighted materials — have no place in the legitimate online market.”
The bill targets Web sites that primarily engage in online piracy and counterfeiting and are often foreign owned and operated. It would give the Department of Justice an expedited process to clamp down on Web sites dedicated to selling infringing goods and services and counterfeits, give authority to Justice officials to file civil action against domain names repeatedly selling counterfeits or providing online piracy and go after foreign site operators.
“We cannot excuse the behavior because it happens online and the owners operate overseas,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), chairman of the committee and a leading co-sponsor of the legislation. “The Internet needs to be free, not lawless.”
The legislation could give new tools to luxury firms and apparel brands that have already spent millions of dollars battling counterfeiters to now go after complicit Web sites.
The International Anticounterfeiting Coalition estimates that counterfeit goods cost legitimate businesses about $250 billion a year in lost revenues and are responsible for the loss of 750,000 jobs annually. In fiscal year 2009, U.S. Customs and Border protection seized $260.7 million worth of fake merchandise, most commonly shoes, accessories and cosmetics.