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Judiciary Committee Approves Internet Censorship Bill
November 18, 2010
Thomas Mennecke
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The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act took one step closer to becoming a reality today as the US Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill. This bill is still far from becoming law of course, but to make it to the halls of congress it needs committee approval - and today it got just that. There wasn't even any opposition, it just passed with flying colors - making the MPAA quite happy but others disappointed.

The MPAA, as we already read yesterday, is eagerly looking forward to this bill becoming law. It would give the Department of Justice the tools necessary to block foreign websites, or to shut down domestic ones. Bob Pisano did his cause few favors yesterday when he readily dismissed the free speech concerns over this bill. As we've all grown to love about the United States, there's no government authority that actively blocks websites. This bill, if it becomes law, would negate that tradition.

Now it seems the MPAA is doing a bit of backtracking. In their press release today, they tried to smooth over some of these concerns by distinguishing the checks and balances incorporated into the bill:

* The Department must publish notice of the action promptly after filing, and it would have to meet clear criteria that focus on the sites’ substantial and repeated role in online piracy or counterfeiting;

* Provide safeguards allowing the domain name owner or site operator to petition the court to lift the order;

* Provide safeguards against abuse by allowing only the Justice Department to initiate an action, and by giving a federal court the final say about whether a particular site would be cut off from supportive services.

But exactly how will the DoJ initiate this action? Who supplies them with what websites to knock offline? The entertainment industry? On their own volition? It's these unknown details that have people worried. Never mind the fact that website owners have to prove their own innocence by petitioning the court to lift the order. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

The RIAA is also trying to smooth over free speech concerns in their press release today. From RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol (emphasis added):

"With this first vote, Congress has begun to strike at the lifeline of foreign scam sites, while protecting free speech and boosting the legal online marketplace. We congratulate Chairman Leahy and Senator Hatch for their leadership on this bill and to the Senate Judiciary Committee for its action today."

How does establishing a great US firewall help protect free speech? It seems the entertainment industry's damage control department is in full effect, trying to stem the tide against this dangerous censorship legislation before it's too late. But we think it may already be.

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