Under normal circumstances in these trying times in Hollywood, the indies feel frozen out by the majors, and the exhibitors have big beefs with the studios, too. Yet here they are today united because of proposed federal legislation. A bipartisan coalition of several U.S. Senators — Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chuck Schumer (D-New York), Dianne Feinstein (D-California), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), Chris Coons (D-Delaware) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) — introduced and/or are sponsoring the Protect IP Bill, which aims to fight online infringement and counterfeiting by deterring, preventing, and rooting out websites that profit from trafficking in stolen content. Uniting in support of the bill are the major studios’ lobbying group the MPAA, The Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA), and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO).

According to the MPAA, the PROTECT IP Act targets foreign websites:

Formerly operating outside the realm of U.S. law, they would no longer be allowed to exploit U.S. registrars, registries, Internet service providers, payment processors, search engines and ad placement services to sustain their illicit online businesses. Internet sites that steal and distribute American intellectual property are often foreign-owned and operated, or reside at domain names that are not registered through a U.S.-based registry or registrar, setting them outside the scope of U.S. law enforcement.

The Justice Department and rights holders are currently limited in their options for legal recourse, even when the website is directed at American consumers and steals American-owned intellectual property. This legislation authorizes the Justice Department to seek a court order directing intermediaries and other U.S.-based third parties to cease providing transactions and support services to infringing sites. These third parties would then be required to take appropriate action to either prevent access to the Internet site (in the case of an Internet service provider or search engine), or cease doing business with the Internet site (in the case of a payment processor or advertising network).

The bill would also authorize rights holders a limited “right of action” to seek a court order against the domain name registrant, owner, or the domain name that is infringing their copyrights. To prevent the same site from simply reappearing online, this legislation would also authorize the Justice Department or rights holders to bring action against previously seized sites that have been reconstituted under a different domain name, site owner, or registrant, in the same Federal court, streamlining the infringing site’s elimination from the online marketplace.