Senate passes Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act

US agencies and officials could get new powers to go after foreign websites that sell counterfeit goods and pirated music, movies and books. This is thanks to a new bill – Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act – which has today been passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It is hoped that the new bill, which was approved unanimously in a 19-0 vote and has the backing of companies such as Disney, the Motion Picture Association of America – of course – and Nike, will target “rogue websites” in countries such as China that are currently outside the reach of American law.

It will allow the Justice Department to seek a court order against the domain name of websites offering illegal music or film downloads as well as those that sell counterfeit goods.

Once the Justice Department has the order, it could shut down the site by requiring the U.S. registrar to suspend the domain name.

If the registry is located outside the United States, the Attorney General could go after the website by requiring US based ISPs, payment processors and advertising networks to stop doing business with it.

Understandably not everyone is pleased. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has already called it “Internet censorship” that could harm the credibility of the United States as a steward of the global domain name system.

Back in September it told us that the 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. It was also concerned that the bill would 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.”

“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 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.”