Franken, Klobuchar on wrong side of Internet, bill’s opponents say

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.,,, 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.

  • Dan Weinand

    The other issue is one of due process. The Attorney General is granted unilateral power to make the determination of whether piracy is central to a sites operation. And site operators are given no meaningful means to contest such claims either before or after a disconnection occurs.

    No presumption of innocence. No chance to confront your accusers.

    Why would somone invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into an enterprise that could be eliminated at-will by a political appointee? It also seems like putting that much power in a single person’s hands would create an environment just ready for massive corruption.

    I’m so disappointed in our senators right now. Amy’s record has been shaky, but Al has been a champion for reasonable technology policy.

  • Eric Wright

    Let’s also not forget that int the case of takedown notices relating to copyrighted material such as might be present on Youtube, the standard operating procedure has become to take down first, and consider “fair use” later. this has already led to a huge amount of legal material being removed without consideration. The posters of this legally offered material tend not to be able to take every situation to court in order to defend their rights. In effect, they are second class citizenry as compared to large corporate interests with deep pockets. This new law will certainly be implemented in similar fashion. I sincerely hope that congress takes the time to consider the chilling effect on speech this may have.

  • don benysek

    this stinkin corrupt government needs to stand back and keep its nose out of issues that do not concern them! Klobuchar and franken are mindless clowns and need to get a job and a life!!!

  • TMM

    Don’t pick just on Frankin and Klobuchar because they took sides with the Republicans on this matter. This is just another power grab by the Republicans to control the people. Mindlessness is a Republican base trait.