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Combatting Online Infringements & Counterfeits Act

The US Combatting Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA) made headlines this fall as a censorship bill masquerading as a copyright infringement bill. This article explores the COICA, which aims to amend the United States Code by removing Internet sites that may be dedicated to, or involved with, infringing activities. The article also examines some potential repercussions and criticisms of the COICA, which have been raised by privacy activists and Internet experts.

What is COICA?
The Combatting Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA) refers to a potential Internet censorship bill that may be passed in the United States. While it appears to be focused on copyright infringement issues, many critics argue that it could potentially silence political content as well.

Initially proposed by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, the cross-party supported COICA aims to provide the US Justice Department with the necessary tools to prevent online infringement. The objective of the bill is to create a blacklist of censored domains, through interference with the Internet’s DNS (domain name system). Under the COICA, the Attorney General is permitted to ask the court to place any web site on the blacklist, as long as it can be proven that copyright infringement is central to the web site’s purpose.

Under the bill, two Internet blacklists would be published. Web sites appearing on the first list would receive a censorship court order from the Attorney General. These sites would have their domains blocked. Web sites appearing on the second list consist of a blacklist of domain names determined to be operating for infringement purposes, as determined by the Department of Justice. It is recommended that sites on this list are blocked and that Internet intermediaries and DNS operators blocking these domains should also receive legal immunity.
In cases where the registries or registrars are located outside of the US, the COICA gives the Attorney General the authority to serve the order to other third parties. These third parties may include Internet service providers, online ad network providers and payment processors.

Blacklisted
According to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s draft COICA bill, released in September 2010, there are a number of different types of web sites that would potentially be taken offline. These sites fall under the following categories:
• One-click hosting web sites
• MP3 blogs and mashup/remix music sites
• Sites discussing piracy
One-click hosting sites allow users to upload anything, unless DMCA takedown notices are received. Their practices arguably balance copyright enforcement with user innovation. According to the draft COICA, the Department of Justice has the authority to determine if piracy is central to the purpose or functioning of the web sites. Such web sites would include: MediaFire, Dropbox and Rapidshare.

MP3 blogs and mashup/remix sites have historically been involved in litigation for unauthorized sampling, though such uses are protected by the fair use doctrine. Observers are concerned that the Department of Justice may simply take down such sites in fear of complaints from the recording industry. Examples of this category of sites include: Hype Machine, Mashup Town and SoundCloud.

The final category of targeted sites includes those discussing P2P technology and piracy in an intellectual or political manner. These sites typically link to tools and information related to file sharing, which may be reason enough for the sites to be taken offline, under the COICA. Critics are concerned that this would fundamentally violate the principles of the freedom of speech. Such sites include: Slyck, ZeroPaid, p2pnet, InfoAnarchy and pirate-party.us.

Critics say…
Prominent critics of the COICA, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), argue that the bill would have a detrimental impact on a wide range of issues, including freedom of speech, internet architecture, copyright doctrine, foreign policy and more. In a recent analysis by the EFF legislative branch, a number of points were raised regarding the harm that the COICA would do. These issues are briefly explained below:

Anti-innovation: The bill does not resolve the problem of un-compensated artists/creators. The EFF argues that Internet services such as Pandora, Amazon Music and YouTube facilitates a marketplace for digital business to grow. Other new online services are being developed to allow artists/creators to connect with their audiences and raise revenue. However, media-sharing platforms, which give rise to artistic creativity and collaboration, would violate the requirements of the COICA.

Censorship: The authority to determine which web sites ought to be blacklisted and which ones are acceptable is dangerous territory. The COICA permits a broad, government-initiated, domain-wide authority to take down websites, which may result in mistakes and abuses, as have been perpetrated under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

DNS Undermining: According to Internet engineers, the COICA has the potential to cause significant problems for the DNS. They anticipate that once the US government starts to control DNS infrastructure, much of the Internet may shift to different DNS mechanisms that are not located in the US.
This may result in inconsistencies between the current DNS hierarchy and the new alternative mechanisms. By using these offshore DNS mechanisms, data may have to travel long physical distances over the network before users can access it on their browsers. This could increase the cost of the Internet infrastructure by 20%. Furthermore, with the dependence on offshore DNS, it may become more difficult to maintain and secure these servers, leading to potential security threats and attacks.

Unconstitutional: Unlike the DMCA, which gives copyright owners the right to remove their own copyrighted content from a website, the COICA permits everything on a particular domain to be taken offline. This constitutes a significant violation of the freedom of speech and could potentially threaten the innovation of new content.

By the end of September 2010, privacy activists successfully delayed the passing of the COICA. The bill was postponed before the Senate’s October recess, allowing more time for debate. This result was partially due to the involvement of key Internet scientists, engineers and citizens who publicized the bill and its potential repercussions.

Summary
This article looks at the COICA (Combatting Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act), which could grant the Attorney General the power to take down entire domains. The article explores the elements of the bill, which include the release of two separate Internet blacklists for websites deemed to be dedicated to, or engaged in, copyright-infringing activities. Under the bill, a number of different types of web sites could be taken down, including: one-click hosting web sites; MP3 blogs and mashup/remix music sites; and sites discussing piracy. Finally, the article provides a brief overview of some criticisms and concerns regarding the COICA, which have been raised by Internet experts and privacy rights activists in the US.

CIPP Exam Preparation
In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/US Government (CIPP/G) exam; the Certification Foundation (Foundations) exam and the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:
• US Public & Private Sector Information Privacy Laws (CIPP/G; I.B.)
• Department of Justice (CIPP/G; II.B.f.iv.)
• Government and Citizen Surveillance (CIPP/IT; II.A.k.)
• Online Privacy Threats (Foundations; III.B.a.)

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