How Protect IP Works

The Nuts and Bolts of Protect IP

The first part of Protect IP gives the United States attorney general the opportunity to get a restraining order or injunction against any Web site that provides access to pirated content. There are a few limitations to this ability: The site must have a domain name that is used within the United States, and the site must both conduct business within the United States and cause harm to those who hold intellectual property rights within the United States.

Assuming the site fits the criteria, the attorney general would then notify the site of the alleged violation. That's assuming it's possible to track down an address, physical or otherwise, for the site's registrant. But what if a sternly worded notice from a U.S.official isn't enough to convince a Web site to abandon its allegedly wanton ways?

Without a means to punish the site, the bill would have little impact. But how can a United States court punish someone who doesn't reside in the United States? The answer lies in an indirect approach. Instead of shutting down the site directly, Protect IP gives the attorney general and Department of Justice the power to limit access to the site from the United States. It can also cut off the flow of cash from the United States to the site.

Under the terms of Protect IP, the government can order non-authoritative domain name servers, search engines and even social networking services to block traffic to alleged piracy sites. The domain name servers would be required to prevent domain names from resolving into IP addresses. This is the basis for the domain name system (DNS) -- each Web site has its own unique IP address, such as But these addresses aren't easy for us to remember. The DNS maps text to IP addresses so that we don't have to remember the numeric addresses, which can change over time.

Protect IP would require domain name servers to prevent these domain names from resolving to the proper IP addresses. If you tried to navigate to such a site, you might get an error message or even be redirected to a different site -- perhaps the site of a law enforcement agency like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The Department of Justice could also notify financial transaction providers like PayPal or Internet advertising services of the violation and require these companies to cut off payments from people within the United States to the sites. The goal is to deprive piracy sites of revenue so that it's not profitable to host pirated content.

These actions might upset users within the United States. The legislation would protect companies that comply with Protect IP from lawsuits brought against them by users. And if a company resists following the instructions set under Protect IP, it could become the target of the attorney general and be subject to fines.

Many people have criticized Protect IP and the similarly-designed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). In our next section, we'll learn why.