COICA Fact Sheet
What bill are we talking about?
It’s S. 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). It’s currently being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
What exactly does it do?
The bill creates two blacklists of Internet domain names. The first can be added to by a court, the second by the Attorney General. Internet service providers (everyone from Comcast to PayPal to Google AdSense) would be required to block any domains on the first list. They would also receive immunity (and presumably the government’s gratitude) for blocking domains on the second list.
What kind of domains can go on the list?
The list is for domains “dedicated to infringing activity,” which is defined very broadly — any site where counterfeit goods or copyrighted material are “central to the activity of the Internet site” would be blocked.
What’s so bad about that?
Well, it means sites like YouTube could get censored in the US. Copyright holders like Viacom argue that copyrighted material is central to activity of YouTube. But under current US law, YouTube is perfectly legal as long as they take down copyrighted material when they’re informed about it — which is why Viacom lost their case in court. If this bill passes, Viacom doesn’t even need to prove YouTube is doing anything illegal — as long as they can persuade a court that enough other people are using it for copyright infringement, that’s enough to get the whole site censored.
And even without a court order, sites can get blacklisted just by order of the Attorney General — and the bill encourages ISPs to block those sites as well. ISPs have plenty of reason to obey a government blacklist even when they’re not legally required.
Isn’t the word censored a little overheated?
Not at all. In the US, the way things work is that if you’re using the Internet to do something illegal, you’re brought to court and the courts can shut you down. This bill would bypass that whole system by forcing Internet service providers to block access to sites that are otherwise up. People in other countries could still get to them, but Internet users in the US would be blocked. This kind of Internet censorship is exactly the sort of thing the US government has been criticizing China and Iran for — just the other day, Obama told the UN that “We will support a free and open Internet.” Now it turns out we’re going to start censoring the Internet ourselves.
But it’s just limited to copyright!
How long do you think that will last? Once the Attorney General has a system set up for censoring the Internet, everyone who has a problem with a website will want to get in on it. How long before it’s expanded to block Wikileaks, pornography, gambling, anarchists, supposed terrorists, and anybody else the Attorney General doesn’t like that day? If people are doing something illegal, the government should take them to court and shut them down — not try to bypass due process by blocking their domain name.
Won’t Internet users just work around the blacklist?
Yes — at the cost of a major blow to the United States. Currently the United States is the global hub of Internet traffic, but if this law passes Internet traffic will be reconfigured to route around it. Companies will move their US servers and domain names overseas, Internet users will route their traffic through other countries (just like Chinese citizens have to do now!), and software will have to be reconfigured to no longer trust answers from American servers.
What can I do to stop this?
The first step is signing our petition then we’ll give you the tools to share it with your friends and call your senator.
If you’re interested in doing more than that, please send us an email and tell us what you’d be willing to help out with. Thanks!
What if I have more questions?
Just send us an email.