On Monday Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) introduced the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, a bipartisan bill that would allow the Department of Justice a new level of expediency in shutting down websites with pirated content. Record labels and other content owners have long wanted a more level playing field for legitimate products and services. This bill appears aimed at more effectively creating just such a playing field.

The DOJ would be able to quickly cut off Internet service of an infringing domain name with a history of online piracy or counterfeiting, a far faster and more direct tactic compared to lengthy legal battles undertaken by content owners and their trade groups. Specifically, the DOJ would file an in rem civil action against a domain name and seek a preliminary order from the court. For sites residing outside the U.S., a Leahy staffer tells CNET, the bill would authorize the attorney general to service the court order on entities such as ISPs, payment processors and online ad network providers. The federal courts would have the final determination on whether or not a web site will continue to receive ISP service.

The bill will be added to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda for a Thursday, Sept. 23 meeting. Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Other committee members sponsoring the bill include Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Charles Schumer (D-New York), Dick Durban (D-Illinois), George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind).

Whether or not this bill becomes law in its current form – or at all – will depend on its specific language. As Wired points out, the Bush administration threatened to veto the bill that eventually created the copyright czar position if similar language wasn’t removed. The original proposal, the White House insisted, would have turned the DOJ into “pro bono lawyers for copyright holders regardless of their resources.”

“Digital theft is a significant and growing problem for songwriters and music publishers, so we welcome today’s action in the U.S. Senate," NMPA president and CEO David Israelite said in a statement. "There is simply no excuse for Internet sites that profit illegally from the works of others to be allowed to function unchallenged. I applaud Chairman Leahy for his leadership on this issue, as well as the bipartisan cosponsors, and look forward to working with them as this important bill moves through Congress."

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