Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Will Congress Pass An Internet Censorship Bill?

Funny what Congress can pass when it gets the gumption. Not unemployment benefits. Not tax cuts for the middle class. Not a nuclear arms treaty with the Russians.But this?:
A bill giving the government the power to shut down Web sites that host materials that infringe copyright is making its way quietly through the lame-duck session of Congress, raising the ire of free-speech groups and prompting a group of academics to lobby against the effort.

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) was introduced in Congress this fall by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). It would grant the federal government the power to block access to any Web domain that is found to host copyrighted material without permission.

Opponents note that the powers given the government under the bill are very broad. Because the bill targets domain names and not specific materials, an entire Web site can be shut down. So for example, if the US determines that there are copyright-infringing materials on YouTube, it could theoretically block access to all of YouTube, whether or not particular material being accessed infringes copyright.

Activist group DemandProgress, which is running a petition against the bill, argues the powers in the bill could be used for political purposes. If the whistleblower Web site WikiLeaks is found to be hosting copyrighted material, for instance, access to WikiLeaks could be blocked for all US Internet users.

Apologies to Raw Story for quoting so much of their story. Good news for them: If the bill passes, they can shut down my blog!

That said, I don't know if Raw Story is being alarmist here or if the bill has a real chance of passing during the lame duck session. If so, the public should raise holy hell. Congress can pass bills that serve powerful interests, but sits on its hands for stuff the rest of us want? You can't possibly be cynical enough.

Hat Tip: Emaw.

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