The US entertainment cartel‘s latest wet dream, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), calls for a mandated government-run blacklist where domain name service (DNS), credit card processing, and online advertising are blocked from websites that infringe on the intellectual property rights of others. After unanimously passing the US Senate Judiciary Committee, this ill-conceived legislation will do nothing to stop the tech-savvy from infringing copyright but will do everything to block ordinary citizens from content their government deems inappropriate. Because even websites that publish infringing material may also publish material that’s constitutionally protected. Think WikiLeaks here, folks. If WikiLeaks is deemed to have published infringing material, access to all of WikiLeaks’ content would be denied. Or Canadian prescription drug websites that sell pharmaceuticals at lower costs. And some domains host thousands of individual websites (think WordPress.com). If just one of those sites publishes infringing material, all of the sites hosted on that domain are blacklisted and disconnected.
DemandProgress argues that the internet disconnection powers inherent in the bill could be used for just such political purposes, using the WikiLeaks scenario as an example. The activist group has a petition to stop the blacklist. A group of university professors have signed on to a letter in opposition to the legislation by David Post at Temple. “The Act, if enacted into law, would fundamentally alter US policy towards internet speech, and would set a dangerous precedent with potentially serious consequences for free expression and global internet freedom,” writes Post in his letter. Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the web itself, went so far as to call the proposed legislation a “blight” on the internet at a web conference at the Royal Society in London.
Congratulations to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee—you’ve blessed the Chinese approach to censoring the internet. We are now Turkey. And you’re too duplicitous to recognize this for what it is: The latest attempt by the entertainment cartel to eat their cake and have it too. The story’s as old as history (God bless Plato) but here’s a modern refresher. The cartel tried to eliminate the video cassette recorder (VCR) by going to the Supreme Court arguing to keep the “Boston Strangler” out of our living rooms. And again with the early .mp3 players. Then again with the analog hole (with breathtaking unoriginal language almost identical to that used against the VCR). Yet again with the commercial skipping digital video recorder (DVR). Oh, and remember the play for a mandatory broadcast flag. And finally, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) is the Judiciary chair and lead sponsor of COICA. The US Chamber of Commerce and other big business groups pressured Leahy to push the legislation through during the lame duck congressional session. Leahy, who certainly knows better and is usually on the correct side of these things, obliged the chamber.
It’s especially disappointing that both Minnesota senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, were among the 19 senators on the Judiciary Committee who voted in favor of COICA. Klobuchar and Franken both—but especially Al Franken—have been quite outspoken with regard to supporting an open internet. As Techdirt wrote in its coverage of the issue, “What’s really amazing is that many of the same senators have been speaking out against internet censorship in other countries, yet they happily vote to approve it here because it’s seen as a way to make many of their largest campaign contributors happy.” Franken may passionately support network neutrality (scroll down to second internet item), but having made himself a small fortune (and the entertainment cartel several large ones), he knows which side of his bread is buttered.
To the rescue comes Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) who, in a Senate Finance Subcommittee hearing, pledged to block the legislation, when he said he’d “take the necessary steps to stop [COICA] from passing the United States Senate.” During his questioning, Wyden stated, “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.”
Because of Wyden’s sole action, COICA will not likely pass the US Congress. At least not this year.