Recently the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill that authorizes the Attorney General to seek injunctive relief against Internet domains that are "dedicated to infringing activities," whether or not those domains are located in the United States.The measure passed 19-0.
Given the amount of time and energy that regulators worldwide have spent on discouraging copyright infringement and counterfeiting (ACTA, anyone?) it shouldn't be a surprise that the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, or COICA, is on the agenda in the Senate. It was just in May, after all, that the bi-partisan Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus released its yearly list of websites to watch because they offer unfettered access to copyrighted material.
AFP quotes COICA co-sponsor Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., as follows:
Rogue websites are essentially digital stores selling illegal and sometimes dangerous products. If they existed in the physical world, the store would be shuttered immediately and the proprietors would be arrested. We cannot excuse the behavior because it happens online and the owners operate overseas. The Internet needs to be free -- not lawless.
Understandably, the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America are praising the bill's progress. They have spearheaded several efforts to shut down filesharing sites in the U.S., including Limewire.
But as IEEE Spectrum blogger Robert Charette points out, not everyone is happy with Leahy's efforts. In fact, a group of 49 law professors wrote the committee, arguing that the bill is unconstitutional because "it directs courts to impose 'prior restraints' on speech - the - most serious and the least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights." Nearly 100 Internet engineers also wrote a letter opposing the bill, but more on technical grounds than legal ones. In part, they argued:
If enacted, this legislation will risk fragmenting the Internet's global domain name system (DNS), create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure.
As Charette notes, the bill is not likely to pass the entire Senate in the short time before Congress adjourns for the year, but if it reappears in the next session, the debate will certainly be lively.