Online Censorship Bill Now On Hold

November 23, 2010

A bill that would have led to more Internet censorship is on ice — thanks to a hold placed on it by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), S.3804, will no longer have the smooth ride this session the content industries wanted.  Although the bill passed the Senate Judiciary last week on a voice vote, it continues to face vocal opposition in both houses and is now highly unlikely to get a full Senate vote this session.

Despite claims that COICA is merely a copyright protection bill, it amounts to much more than that.  Instead, COICA’s provisions will create an Internet censorship regime under the flag of copyright protection.  Under COICA, the Department of Justice will be tasked with creating and maintaining a “black list” of domains suspected of illegal file sharing and piracy.  Any website that ends up on the DOJ’s black list will be removed from the Domain Name System.  Additionally, third party companies, including Internet access providers and credit card companies, will be prohibited from dealing with the black listed website.

Fortunately, members in both Congressional houses have taken notes of these censorship concerns. Wyden, D-Ore., has placed a hold on COICA after raisinghis concerns at an International Trade Subcommittee hearing in the Senate Finance Committee he chaired last week.  Wyden went as far as calling the tools of the bill to combat online copyright infringement a “bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile.”  Wyden also raised fears that COICA may result in unintended consequences that will harm American innovation and jobs, as well as a secure Internet.  Ultimately, Wyden said that he would do anything he could to stop COICA from passing the United States Senate.

Over on the House side, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., of the House Judiciary Committee has also voiced reservations over COICA.  In a November 17, 2010 press release, Lofgren expressed concerns that COICA “could set a precedent for further control and censorship of the Internet by foreign governments, and risk the fragmentation of the global [DNS].”  Lofgren’s apprehensions are especially important as the House Judiciary is the committee that would likely consider any COICA-like bill on the House side.

Wyden’s hold in the Senate blocking a vote and Lofgren’s vocal reservations in the House Judiciary indicate that it is extremely unlikely COICA could pass Congress, nor even the Senate, this year.  However, the content industries’ push for similar legislation is likely to continue in future Congresses.  After the Senate Judiciary’s unanimous 19-0 voice vote on the bill, we’re bracing for a ‘Return of COICA”, or similar legislation, next year.  Hopefully it won’t be a rerun and will instead take heed of the concerns raised by both Congresspersons and stakeholders in this round because, as CCIA CEO Ed Black noted at the Wyden hearing, COICA is a “good example of what not to do in an important, complicated digital ecosystem.”

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