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MPAA Dismisses COICA Free Speech Concerns
November 17, 2010
Thomas Mennecke
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MPAA chief Bob Pisano wrote an op-ed piece that appeared in today's TheHill.com, evangelizing the highly suspect legislation "The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act". Slyck has covered the potential perils of the COICA, as have many other pro-democracy organizations (such as the EFF), as the details of a potential Internet and free speech filter come to the United States.

The big problem with COICA is that it gives tremendous amounts of power to the US Attorney General to shut websites down with little more than filing a complaint with the local district court that has jurisdiction over the registrar's address. Sure, there's some judicial review, but how often will the courts disagree with the Department of Justice when they wave the banner of copyright infringement? We just don't know, which makes this bill all the more frightening.

What's also rather frightening is the definition of "infringing sites" - or shall we say, the lack of definition. The bill's language is very broad and vague. Today's op-ed piece doesn't help much either. Pisano reflects one of the bill's co-sponsors words (Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), writing the bill would target the "worst of the worst". Just who decides that?

Pisano dedicates a full paragraph to addressing the issue of free speech - readily dismissed by the MPAA chief but very real to just about everyone else. Why? Because the bill could be potentially overreaching and may implement a great firewall in the United States, a concept that's inconsistent with our ideas of free speech and democracy.

"Bipartisan congressional efforts to crack down on these operations are opposed by groups who claim the First Amendment protects the rights of these sites to use the Internet for their illegal practices. But the First Amendment was not intended as a shield for those who steal, irrespective of the means. Theft is theft, whether it occurs in a dark alley or in the ether, and to attempt to distinguish the two is to undermine the most basic tenets of our criminal laws."

Unfortunately, this does little to soothe the nerves of those rightfully concerned about the future of this bill, or the future of free speech online. As the EFF points out, the language of this bill could hold numerous websites accountable and impose an iron curtain of Internet control in the United States.

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