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Anti-piracy bill moves forward in Washington

November 18, 2010 | 11:41 am

Maybe lawmakers had just read the news that 25% of the new Harry Potter movie had leaked out on the Internet: Hollywood's efforts to curb the spread of online piracy just got a boost in Washington.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Thursday morning the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which has been strongly backed by the Motion Picture Assn. of America. The higher chamber, however, is not expected to vote on the bill until next year.

A stark reminder of the theater of online piracy came this week when the first 36 minutes of Warner Bros.’ “Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows -- Part 1,” which opens this  weekend, appeared Tuesday on the BitTorrent file-sharing network. The studio is still investigating how the footage leaked onto the Internet.

Republican member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said the measure would give the Justice Department more tools to track and shut down websites devoted to providing access to unauthorized downloads, streaming or sale of copyrighted content.

"Rogue websites are essentially digital stores selling illegal and sometimes dangerous products. If they existed in the physical world, the store would be shuttered immediately and the proprietors would be arrested,'' said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee's chairman, in a statement. "We cannot excuse the behavior because it happens online and the owners operate overseas. The Internet needs to be free -- not lawless."

Although the White House has not officially backed the bill, Leahy has said it has the support of President Obama. His appointee, Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, testified before the committee and recently issued a report on the perils posed by rogue websites.

The complete text of S. 3804 is here.

-- Richard Verrier