The Association of American Publishers has thrown its weight behind a bill that critics say would dramatically scale back the “safe harbor” provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. On November 16, Congress heard testimony on SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act), a bill that broadly targets foreign-based “rogue” Internet sites by going after companies that allegedly “engage in, enable, or facilitate” infringement. It is a companion of the controversial PROTECT IP act, which passed a Senate committee earlier this year.

Proponents say the bill is necessary to combat rampant piracy. But critics counter that the bill goes too far and would destroy the Internet as we know it, creating virtual “blacklists” and fostering censorship. Among SOPA’s provisions, it would give content owners the ability to shut down access to “rogue” sites, force Web registries to block entire domains, and force banks and credit card companies to stop doing business with sites accused of supporting or inducing infringement, with just a court order.

AAP said that foreign-based “rogue” sites represent a thorny problem for publishers because they are often out of reach of U.S. courts. In a statement, AAP officials said publishers support legislation that would require “enablers,” including “collaborating ISPs, search engines, pay services and advertisers to end their associations with these pirates.” Tom Allen, AAP president and CEO, said claims that SOPA would obstruct freedom of speech or create an avenue for reckless lawsuits were “outlandish” and “unequivocally wrong.” Allen called both SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act “responsible bipartisan proposals offering reasonable measures to help safeguard the creative products of American ingenuity.” Among other bill supporters are the major Hollywood studios.

Opposition to the bill, however, is mounting. Critics include free speech and watchdog groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU, and Public Knowledge; libraries; technology companies, including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Mozilla; the consumer electronics industry; and a who’s who of the nation’s copyright and intellectual property community, all saying the bill would cripple the Internet economy, rewrite copyright laws, and deprive people of due process.

“SOPA is a dangerous bill,” states a November 15 letter to Congress from a group of more than 100 intellectual property academics, which calls the bill the “most ill-advised and destructive intellectual property legislation in recent memory.”

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt told students at MIT last week that the bill was “draconian,” and that the provision that would force ISPs to remove URLs from the Web was “also known as censorship, last time I checked.”