November 22nd, 2010
Al Gore may have invented the Information Superhighway, but Oregon Senator Ron Wyden just saved the Internet
While the Internet may not be a series of tubes or a big truck you can dump stuff on, it is a place where an awful lot of folks spend time and energy building businesses. And as such, one of the most hotly debated topic is the idea of copyright. And who owns what on the Web.
Enter the US government and the attempted legislation of said copyright, the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA, S.3804). Problem is that—as usual—the devil is in the details.
So what exactly does the Senate bill propose to do? Well, according to Ars Technica, here’s what COICA entails:
The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA, S.3804) sets up a system through which the US government can blacklist a pirate website from the Domain Name System, ban credit card companies from processing US payments to the site, and forbid online ad networks from working with the site. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 19-0 this week, but it’s never going to pass the Senate before the end of the current Congress.
But according to the EFF, the bill isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Turns out, it may very well be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA) is an Internet censorship bill which is rapidly making its way through the Senate. Although it is ostensibly focused on copyright infringement, an enormous amount of noninfringing content, including political and other speech, could disappear off the Web if it passes.
The main mechanism of the bill is to interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which translates names like “www.eff.org” or “www.nytimes.com” into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. The bill creates a blacklist of censored domains; the Attorney General can ask a court to place any website on the blacklist if infringement is “central” to the purpose of the site.
If that is truly the case, that could be horrible for the Internet as a whole. And that’s why a single Senator is standing up against the bill. And that stance stalled the legislation. The senator? Oregon Senator Ron Wyden.
A bill that critics say would have given the government power to censor the Internet will not pass this year thanks to the Oregon Democrat, who announced his opposition during a recent committee hearing. Individual Senators can place holds on pending legislation, in this case meaning proponents of the bill will be forced to reintroduce the measure and will not be able to proceed until the next Congress convenes.
So Wyden, long a proponent of technology and the Internet—including co-sponsoring the Internet Tax Freedom Act—takes another step in helping ensure that the Internet remains an open, competitive environment. And that prevents the US from sliding down a slippery slope that could impact some of the freedoms we hold dear, like free speech.
(Image courtesy OregonDOT. Used under Creative Commons.)
(Hat tip Steven Walling)