Wyden squashes internet censorship bill

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

"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." - Ron Wyden

In tech circles, there's been a lot of concern about a proposed law called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA). It's a bill that would allow the Justice Department to pull the plug on any internet site that it accuses of a copyright violation -- even BEFORE such a violation is proven in a court of law.

On Thursday, the bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a 19-0 voice vote without a hearing.

On Friday, Senator Ron Wyden placed a hold on the bill - effectively ensuring that COICA would not pass this year, leading to quite a bit of celebrating among open-internet advocates:

Raw Story:

It's too early to say for sure, but Oregon Senator Ron Wyden could very well go down in the history books as the man who saved the Internet.

OK, that's a bit overblown, but it's true that COICA was an outrageous assault on free speech. Here's how it would have worked -- if the Justice Department determined that some site was publishing copyrighted material, they could file a civil action and then ask for a preliminary takedown of the entire domain. That's right -- the bill would use the Domain Name System to unplug an entire domain, rather than simply removing the offending page or pages on the site.

Senator Wyden:

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.

Keep in mind, the 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) already provides enormous power to copyright holders. In short, the DMCA makes it possible for a copyright holder to issue a "takedown notice" to the upstream service provider of a site.

In other words, if a site has an offending post and refuses to take it down, the copyright owner can appeal to the company that hosts the site's server. If they refuse, the copyright owner could appeal to their provider, etc. It won't take too many hops to find someone unwilling to fight in court; resulting in a very rapid squashing of the content.

And that's already the law. The COICA would go even further, and allow the DOJ to jump directly to the DNS system - and unplug the entire domain from the internet.

This is another day, in a big collection of them, that I'm proud to be associated with Senator Ron Wyden.

Read more: Ars Technica, PC World, National Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and Silicon Florist.

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    Who was pushing this bill in the committee?

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      Sponsored by its chair, Senator Patrick Leahy.

      I was surprised to see the 19-0 vote, given that Al Franken is on the committee, and he's made net neutrality - a related issue with many overlapping supporters - a key issue in his first two years.

      I suspect the voice vote without a hearing happened precisely because it was going nowhere.

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    I have such a hard time w/ Wyden because his unconditional support of "free" trade (free to everyone except American workers, third world slaves, and anyone that drinks water or breathes). It has hurt Oregon so deeply and profoundly it's hard to get over (75,000 jobs lost to start)– but then on so many other issues he's just wonderful. This lands firmly on the wonderful side for me.

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    Leahy is a core sponsor of the Disclose Act as well. Al of this is about shutting down free speech and dissent. I am just thankful Wyden saw the light on this one. This bill would allow the DOJ and not a judge to decide who gets shut down and when it happens. It would also remove accountability when a site is shut down.

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    Dang. This would have been a great bookend to the RICO act from the '70s, wherein your property is guilty until proven innocent. It has bought a lot of Camaros and Swatmobiles for Rural PDs in its day......

    Thank you Senator Wyden. This was actually a pleasant surprise. It is truly frightening that the committee legislators not only do not understand, but it seems that their tech staffers are either kicked to the curb or don't understand the basics themselves.

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