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The 19 members of the Senate Judiciary unanimously voted to move forward with The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA, S.3804) this week, despite a letter (.PDF) sent to them by a large number of law professors explaining the unconstitutionality of COICA, and earlier protests by 96 Internet engineers, and Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the Web. It doesn’t appear it will pass through the full Senate, however, at least for now.
COICA targets piracy, but it is very broad in its definition of what that means. Copyright infringement could include not just hosting torrents, downloads or streams of copyrighted materials, but also providing “a link or aggregated links to other sites or Internet resources for obtaining access to such copies.”
In other words, as defined, it could be interpreted that a news site that linked to The Pirate Bay or other BitTorrent site would be in violation. COICA would empower the attorney general to be able to get court orders to blacklist sites out of the DNS (Domain Name Service) system, meaning you wouldn’t be able to type in their name and reach them, on the Web. Naturally, organizations such as the MPAA and RIAA love the idea.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has announced that he was going to “take the necessary steps to stop [COICA] from passing the United States Senate.” He added:
“It seems to me that online copyright infringement is a legitimate problem, but it seems to me that COICA as written is the wrong medicine. Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile. The collateral damage of this statute could be American innovation, American jobs, and a secure Internet.”
The law professors’ letter says:
The Act, if enacted into law, would fundamentally alter U.S. policy towards Internet speech, and would set a dangerous precedent with potentially serious consequences for free expression and global Internet freedom. To begin with, the Act is an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an advocacy group, adds
“Blacklisting entire sites out of the domain name system is a reckless scheme that will undermine global Internet infrastructure and censor legitimate online speech.”
As noted, the bill passed out of the committee unanamously, which translates to having full bipartisan support. That’s pretty unusual in these contentious political times, and points to the support of major industry organizations such as the previously mentioned RIAA and MPAA.
While probably dead for this session, it might show up again. You can bet Tim Berners-Lee, the EFF. and plenty of others will push hard for it to stay dead.