Piracy Bill Clears Committee

Yesterday, while I was otherwise out of pocket, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor of COICA. This is the bill that will grant the DoJ the power to take force alleged pirate sites out of the DNS system, effectively making them inaccessible. Past versions of the bill included a secret black list, a hallmark of typical online censorship regimes. I linked to EFF’s very well stated arguments against the bill the day before yesterday.

Govtrack.us doesn’t yet have this latest draft, still linking to the September 20th draft, the first of three so far. I received a link on one of my private mailing lists to the current draft posted on the Judiciary committee’s site. The wording around publication of the black list is unchanged, in section 2(f). The IP Enforcement Coordinator may publish block domains but is not required. This is an incredibly weakening compared to the original draft that required the list to be published. This is a glaring alteration as there are many remaining, unchanged bits requiring the IPEC and the AG to publish information on procedures.

The other big change in this draft, confirmed on reading it for myself, is a language about advertisers and payment processors not doing business with blocked sites, in section 2(d)(5)(B). This block is labeled voluntary actions and is a bit inscrutable. If I understand it right, these service providers are not required to stop working with targeted sites but cannot be held liable if they do so.

There is no date yet on when a vote will be conducted on the floor of the Senate, though that is the next step. The bill still has a long way to go and hopefully public pressure will weaken it if not outright kill it.

Even if this law is narrowed considerably, it is still a huge problem. The ridiculously upper limit on statutory damages that has been repeatedly exercised hasn’t affected copyright infringement. Countries implementing Internet disconnection have merely see a shift of where file trading takes place. Even if blacklisting domain names wasn’t uncomfortably close to the common approach to online censorship and rife with potential for abuse, it is merely the next desperate cranking of the copyright maximalist’s ratchet. If COICA passes, regardless of form, it won’t change anything. When it fails, what will Big Content ask for next? That’s the real problem if this becomes law, that question of what is next.