A revised version of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) was introduced on May 12, reviving a campaign to eliminate websites violating copyright law. Although changes have been made, however, the new “Protect IP” bill carries some of the same controversies as COICA.
Protect IP was introduced by 11 senators, with Sen. Patrick Leahy at the helm. Leahy was also the main voice behind COICA. The fundamental difference between the two bills is that while COICA allowed the government to obtain court orders to seize copyright infringing websites, Protect IP lets the Department of Justice obtain the court orders and the U.S. ISP will shut down the website, so the website will still be usable outside the U.S.
In geek-speak, both bills allow governments to pull websites off the web by blocking their DNS—a factor that lent to the tremendous controversy around COICA.
The main issues raised by COICA remain unchanged in the Protect IP bill. In particular, it still targets websites that link to copyright infringing sites, meaning that websites that do not engage in copyright infringement, but include links to websites that do, could be pulled off the Web.
Protect IP will also place more power into the hands of content owners, allowing them to seek court orders to also target copyright infringing sites.
The COICA bill raised serious concerns from across the digital world, including human rights organizations, law professors, and Internet companies.
An open letter from 89 individuals who helped create the Internet stated COICA would “risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS), create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, who helped block COICA, was one of the first to voice concerns around Protect IP. He said he stood against COICA as the potential collateral damage of the bill on innocent websites was too large.
“COICA’s at-all-costs approach to protecting intellectual property would have inflicted collateral damage on the foundations of the Internet, trampled free speech, stifled innovation and given license to foreign regimes to further censor the Internet for political and commercial purposes. The costs far outweighed the benefits,” Wyden said in a press release.
He states that while Protect IP addresses some of his concerns, it “also puts forward several new provisions that would have serious ramifications for Internet speech and commerce.”
Wyden adds, regarding the bill targeting websites that link to copyright infringing materials, “Given that hyperlinks in many ways form the foundation of the Internet, efforts to go after one site for linking to another site – which the Administration is currently doing and the Protect IP Act would expand on – threaten to do much more than protect IP.”
Still, the bill also has its supporters, particularly among the companies and services impacted by copyright infringement.
“Online piracy in its many forms robs game makers of fair compensation for their originality, ingenuity and labor,” states Michael Gallagher, president and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association, in a press release.
“We appreciate the vigilance of U.S. law enforcement in pursuing actions against websites that make it their business to promote piracy, and appreciate that Senator Leahy and his colleagues are considering tools to build on these successes in the international context,” Gallagher states.