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Don’t Censor the Internet! STOP the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act

Written By : Warner Todd Huston
November 18, 2010

The politicians are at it again. They never cease to amaze for their constantly revolving attempts to take over complete control of the Internet and everything connected to it. This time, in the guise of safeguarding copyrighted material, Congressional Democrats intend to introduce into this zombie session of congress the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA).

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COICA would give the Attorney General the power to shut down websites accused of illegally distributing copyrighted material by requiring Internet Service Providers to block such sites from its customers.

Certainly, as a capitalist, I am solidly for protections against copyright infringement, but, as is the case with most things that government does, this bill goes that much too far and offers a threat to freedom of expression on the Internet.

After all, this bill would give the power to block websites to a relatively few number of government officials, a situation ripe for misuse and abuse. Further such overt power could easily chill nascent companies that might shy from investing in new ideas for fear of running afoul of the government.

STOP the COICA… www.dontcensorthenet.com/. Sign the petition.

This bill has even alarmed a group of eighty-seven engineers who played a part in the creation of the Internet.

If enacted, this legislation will 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. All censorship schemes impact speech beyond the category they were intended to restrict, but this bill will be particularly egregious in that regard because it causes entire domains to vanish from the Web, not just infringing pages or files. Worse, an incredible range of useful, law-abiding sites can be blacklisted under this bill.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has many concerns over COICA.

If this bill passes, the list of targets could conceivably include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire and Rapidshare; MP3 blogs and mashup/remix music sites like SoundCloud, MashupTown and Hype Machine ; and sites that discuss and make the controversial political and intellectual case for piracy, like pirate-party.us, p2pnet, InfoAnarchy, Slyck and ZeroPaid . Indeed, had this bill been passed five or ten years ago, YouTube might not exist today. In other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous. (See why all these sites would be targets?)

Critics of the COICA say that there are already plenty of laws to prevent copyright infringement and this bill would only add uncertainty in an era when economic activity is sorely needed.

I have joined a growing list of individuals and organizations to try and stop this bad bill. This new effort has been launched at www.dontcensorthenet.com/. Please stop by and sign the petition and let’s send a message to Congress.

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