Minnesota’s two U.S. senators, who normally come down hard on the side of an open Internet, are being criticized by the popular tech blog, TechDirt, for a vote this week that it characterizes as “censoring” the Internet.
“What’s really amazing is that many of the same Senators have been speaking out against internet censorship in other countries, yet they happily vote to approve it here because it’s seen as a way to make many of their largest campaign contributors happy,” TechDirt said.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken were among 19 senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee voting for the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, which allows the government to strip a Web site of its DNS function (the numerical address that translates a URL to an actual location on the Internet) if it “aids piracy.”
Few people, of course, could be against thievery and piracy, but the problem is — as it usually is with legislation — how it will be enforced.
A group of law professors says the targets of the bill could have nothing to do with piracy, and still lose their place on the Internet:
The Act would also suppress vast amounts of protected speech containing no infringing content whatsoever, and is unconstitutional on that ground as well. The current architecture of the Internet permits hundreds or even thousands of independent individual websites to operate under a single domain name by the use of unique sub-domains; indeed, many web hosting services operate hundreds of thousands of websites under a single domain name (e.g., www.aol.com, www.terra.es, www.blogspot.com). By requiring suppression of all sub-domains associated with a single offending domain name, the Act “burns down the house to roast the pig,” ACLU v. Reno, 521 U.S. 844, 882 (1997), failing the fundamental requirement imposed by the First Amendment that it implement the “least restrictive means of advancing a compelling state interest.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation calls the legislation “disastrously bad,”and also says sites such as YouTube would not be around today if this legislation had been.
To recap, COICA gives the government dramatic new copyright enforcement powers, in particular the ability to make entire websites disappear from the Internet if infringement, or even links to infringement, are deemed to be “central” to the purpose of the site. Rather than just targeting files that actually infringe copyright law, COICA’s “nuclear-option” design has the government blacklisting entire sites out of the domain name system — a reckless scheme that will undermine global Internet infrastructure and censor legitimate online speech.