Monday, December 5, 2011

The internet as we know it is under attack

Not just from SOPA the sweeping bill in congress that would limit what you can and cannot see on the internet but also from COICA a bill Republicans and Democrats alike -- have signed onto. It would vastly expand the government's power to censor the Internet.

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. If people don't speak out, US citizens could soon find themselves joining Iranians and Chinese in being blocked from accessing broad chunks of the public Internet.
COICA creates two blacklists of Internet domain names. Courts could add sites to the first list; the Attorney General would have control over the second. Internet service providers and others (everyone from Comcast to PayPal to Google AdSense) would be required to block any domains on the first list. They would also receive immunity (and presumably the good favor of the government) if they block domains on the second list.

The lists are for sites "dedicated to infringing activity," but that's defined very broadly -- any domain name where counterfeit goods or copyrighted material are "central to the activity of the Internet site" could be blocked.

One example of what this means in practice: sites like YouTube could be censored in the US. Copyright holders like Viacom often argue copyrighted material is central to the activity of YouTube, but under current US law, YouTube is perfectly legal as long as they take down copyrighted material when they're informed about it -- which is why Viacom lost to YouTube in court.

But if COICA passes, Viacom wouldn't even need to prove YouTube is doing anything illegal to get it shut down -- as long as they can persuade the courts that enough other people are using it for copyright infringement, the whole site could be censored.

Perhaps even more disturbing: Even if Viacom couldn't get a court to compel censorship of a YouTube or a similar site, the DOJ could put it on the second blacklist and encourage ISPs to block it even without a court order. (ISPs have ample reason to abide the will of the powerful DOJ, even if the law doesn't formally require them to do so.)
COICA's passage would be a tremendous blow to free speech on the Internet -- and likely a first step towards much broader online censorship.

1 comment:

  1. That's creepy... Even here, in Malaysia, it was initially promised that the internet will NOT be censored in any way whatsoever, but recently, ISPs were urged to block some sites due to copyright issues as well. :(