April 17th, 2011
How many times can one man save the Internet? Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon is ratcheting up quite a record
If you live in Oregon, you probably know the name Ron Wyden. The Democrat has remained a fixture in the US Senate for Oregon—and he show no signs of slowing.
But what you might not know is how damned hard the guy works to protect the Internet as we know it. So if you’re trying to build a business using the Internet, you like the Internet, or you’ve even heard of the Internet, you might want to thank Senator Wyden for his work. Even if it does mean that silly blogs like this one continue to exist.
Ars Technica—one of the most senior tech blogs and arguably the smartest one around—took some time to sit down with Senator Wyden to discuss his latest endeavor: blocking the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA).
COICA? Yeah sure, the acronym sounds obscene. But what does it do?
COICA allows the government to block sites at the domain name (DNS) level, and it would require online ad networks and credit card companies to stop working with blocked sites. The goal is to target foreign piracy and counterfeiting sites that can’t be easily reached through US courts. The blocks would require judicial sign-off, but most hearings would feature only the government’s point of view, and rightsholders would largely supply the target list to government investigators.
But due to Senator Wyden’s efforts, that Act isn’t going anywhere for the time being. And that’s a good thing for everyone on the Internet.
Why is he so against it?
“I think it’s important to make a distinction between counterfeit goods and copyright infringement,” said Senator Wyden in his interview with Ars. “This is right at the heart of the debate. With respect to counterfeits, the bad guys are warehousing, advertising, they’re directly selling illicit merchandise, often to unsuspecting consumers. With respect to copyrights, what constitutes willful distribution or even infringement is still unsettled law.
“In addition, with respect to the illegal production or distribution of tangible goods, the government has made it clear what’s legal and what’s not. So this is an area where you’ve got a pretty bright line; when you’re talking about counterfeits, you’ve got efforts that are reasonably targeted, people understand what the ground rules are, there’s a sense that you understand what law enforcement is doing with respect to key issues like due process. That is not the case today for copyright infringement.
“That’s right at the heart of this debate. I mean, when you’re seizing tangible goods, you’re not undermining the pillars of the Internet as well.”
Think this is some political grandstanding? Well, this isn’t Wyden’s first time protecting the Internet. He’s stood up to COICA before. And he’s been a staunch proponent of net neutrality. Heck, he even wrote Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to protect services that accept user generated content—which basically enabled the entire social Web we know today.
So for all the talk about other regions bragging about being the heart of technology, startups, and the Web, it’s really nice to see our Senator leading the charge when it comes to protecting the Internet in ways that allow all of us to succeed.
Well done, Senator. Please keep up the good work.
For more, read the interview with Senator Ron Wyden on Ars Technica. Or follow @ronwyden on Twitter.
(Image courtesy Cheryl Biren. Used under Creative Commons.)