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Who Supports COICA - A Look Inside This Dangerous Anti-Piracy Legislation
October 22, 2010
Thomas Mennecke
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There's a new bill being pushed hard in the halls of Congress. It's called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), and it already has the support of dozens of very large and influential mega-corporations. In essence, the bill gives broad new powers to the US Attorney General and Department of Justice to stomp out websites, especially foreign ones, that pose a threat to US copyright holders. Sounds like a great plan, right? Well there's Hertz, and there's not exactly.

This bill, which amends existing copyright law, on the surface actually seems like an OK piece of legislation. There's some legitimate concerns from manufacturers like 1-800-PetMeds over the possibilities of counterfeit medicines being transported from God knows what types of bogus websites. And Chanel also has a warranted gripe about knockoffs being transported and sold into the United States. Consumers should share this concern too - the last thing a caring pet owner want to do is feed their pet bullocks medicines or wear a pair of false Chanel sunglasses that don't provide the superior UV protection of the real deal.

But that's just about where the legitimacy of this bill ends, and the threat to free speech begins.

The First Amendment of the US Constitution grants freedom of the press and freedom of speech to all citizens. That helps sites like tell ACS:Law to get stuffed when they threaten us with frivolous litigation. It also allows US citizens to view just about any website they so choose - perhaps foreign websites like The Pirate Bay or isoHunt. Regardless of the legal status, US citizens have the right to view these site and read their content. After all, both sites have extensive blogs and forums where communities of individuals communicate and share ideas - the very foundation of free speech.

What if the MPAA or other right holder doesn't like these sites? If this bill becomes law, there's a very real possibility their domains may be blocked from US citizens.

The problem with the bill is that it leave the take down procedure so ambiguous that we find it hard to determine what websites could or could not be held accountable. Let's take a look at some of the bill's language, especially the portion that defines what an infringing site is:

"...primarily designed, has no demonstrable, commercially significant purpose or use other than, or is marketed by its operator, or by a person acting in concert with the operator, to offer...without the authorization of the copyright owner or otherwise by operation of law, copies of, or public performance or display of, works protected by title 17, in complete or substantially complete form, by any means, including by means of download, transmission, or otherwise, including the provision of a link or aggregated links to other sites or Internet resources for obtaining such copies for accessing such performance or displays..."

You can't paint much of a broader stroke than that. The internet works by providing links and aggregating links to other sites, and under the language of this bill just about every website that even has the slightest mention of file-sharing or P2P would be subject to its wrath. In order to enforce this bill, if it were to become law, the Justice Department, pending minimal Judicial review, would have the authority to have the domain blocked in the United States. This would require the help of ISPs and domain registrars like VeriSign, who controls the .com domain.

"...a service provider, as that term is defined in section 512(k)(1) of title 17, United States Code, or other operator of a domain name system server shall take reasonable steps that will prevent a domain name from resolving to that domain name's Internet protocol address;"

That goes against the much maligned, but yet very important DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) safe harbor provision that absolves ISPs from bearing any responsibility for any illegal activity that may transpire across their network.

In all, this bill is a danger to all US citizens, and should be opposed with the most vigorous means possible. The US has a strong history of promoting a free Internet, not one that puts up a great firewall. If we allow this to happen, we'll start down a dark path of blocking websites and restricting the freedom to view whatever website we so choose. Who supports this bill? Take a look below:

Acushnet Golf
Association of American Publishers
Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA)
Church Music Publishers' Association
Copyright Alliance
Entertainment Software Association
Fashion Business Inc.
Fortune Brands
Guru Denim, Inc.
Imaging Supplies Coalition
Johnson and Johnson
LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton
Major League Baseball
Motion Picture Association of America
National Music Publisher's Association
NBC Universal
Nervous Tattoo Inc., dba Ed Hardy
OpSec Security
Premier League
Recording Industry Association of America
Sony Music Entertainment
Sports Rights Owners Coalition
STOP Streaming Group
Tiffany and Co.
Time Warner
True Religion Apparel, Inc.
Ultimate Fighting Championship
Underwriters Laboratory
Universal Music Group
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Warner Music Group


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