Combating online Infringement and Counterfeits Act riles rights groups

Online rights groups are sharpening their battle weapons after proposals by a US lawmaker for a take down legislation that could globally effect the web.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy proposed a cross-party supported Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which he says will provide the Justice Department with tools to crack down on online infringement.

According to the EFF, the new bill would break the internet one domain at a time by requiring domain registrars/registries, ISPs, DNS providers, and others to block internet users from reaching certain websites that are hosted in the US. The bill would also create two internet blacklists. The first is a list of all the websites hit with a censorship court order from the Attorney General. The second is a blacklist of domain names that the Department of Justice determines — without judicial review — are “dedicated to infringing activities.”

The bill only requires blocking for domains in the first list, but strongly suggests that domains on the second list should be blocked as well by providing legal immunity for Internet intermediaries and DNS operators who decide to block domains on the second blacklist as well.

Visitors to blocked sites will see a 404 error message.

If the site is hosted outside the US, the Justice Department would approach the registries controlling the top level dot.com, dot.net and dot.org domains, which are all US based.

“Where the registry or registrar is not located in the United States, the Act would provide the Attorney General the authority to serve the order on other specified third parties at its discretion, including ISPs, payment processors, and online ad network providers,” Leahy said.
“These third parties… are critical to the financial viability of the infringing website’s business.”

EFF said in its story: “COICA is a fairly short bill, but it could have a longstanding and dangerous impact on freedom of speech, current internet architecture, copyright doctrine, foreign policy, and beyond,” EFF said in it’s story.

“In 2010, if there’s anything we’ve learned about efforts to re-write copyright law to target “piracy” online, it’s that they are likely to have unintended consequences.”

It said the bill probably couldn’t give the Attorney General the power to block YouTube, but it could stop the next YouTube.

It also pointed out that the bill included poorly drafted definitions that threatened fair use online, endanger innovative backup services, and d questions about how these new obligations on internet intermediaries were intended to fit with existing US secondary liability rules and the DMCA copyright safe harbor regime.

Richard Esguerra, wrote on his EFF blog: “Moreover, it seems easy to get on the blacklist — the bill sets up a seemingly streamlined procedure for adding domains (including a McCarthy-like procedure of public snitching) — but in contrast, it seems difficult to get off the list, with a cumbersome process to have a blacklisted domain removed.

“And what do we get in exchange? Not much, if the goal is to actually limit unauthorised copying online. The bill gives the government power to play an endless game of whack-a-mole, blocking one domain after another, but even a relatively unsophisticated technologist can begin to imagine the workarounds: a return to encrypted peer-to-peer, modified /etc/hosts files (that don’t rely on the domain name system for finding things on the Internet), and other tools, which will emerge and ensure that committed pirates have a way to route around the bill’s damage to the DNS system.”