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Congress Back To Censoring Internet

Congress Back to Business as Usual
Now that the elections are over, Congress can get back to the job of censoring the internet. The kerfuffle over the TSA taking naked pictures of you and/or giving you a groin pat-down has to come as a welcome voter distraction for those lawmakers bent on ramming S. 3804: Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) through Congress before voters even know what it is. Simply put, the COICA allows the government to keep “blacklists” of websites the government, in its sole discretion, decides are “dedicated to infringing activities.” The COICA does not require any hearing or judicial review, just “BAM” your website is gone. Not just the allegedly infringing material, not just the webpage upon which it appears, your entire website.

Enlisting Your ISP Against You
But won’t your Internet Service Provider (ISP) stand up for you and your rights? Theoretically, but the COICA offers your ISP legal immunity if your ISP works with the government to shut down your website. You know your ISP better than I do, but given the choice between fighting the government to defend your rights or throwing you and your website under a bus, I have to imagine you stand a fairly good chance of winding up on the short end of that deal.

But What About the Safeguards?
There are no safeguards. The COICA diminishes the Department of Justice and the Attorney General to “Jack-Booted Thugs” doing the dirty work and stifling freedom of speech on behalf of huge corporate copyright interests. As noted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) “[w]ithout safeguards and a thorough accounting of the consequences, laws and policies targeting so-called ‘pirates’ can be used to pry away human rights and undermine fundamental elements of democracy and freedom.”

Using the COICA for Political Purposes
The ACLU, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders all strongly condemn the COICA. The groups agree that “[n]othing in principle would limit application of this approach solely to copyright infringement.” The party in power will be able to shut down websites like Wikileaks or other websites publishing information critical of the party in power.

The COICA Is Bad For Artists
The COICA is not even good for artists. According to the EFF, the COICA will crush new entertainment delivery options, the precise delivery options which have the best chance of driving income to the artists, rather than to the movie and recording industry. Because these new entertainment delivery options are a threat to old school corporate interests, they have to go. No judge, no jury, just gone.

The COICA Is Bad For You
And its sponsors know that. That is why the Senate Judiciary Committee stopped all scheduled mark-ups on the the COICA until after mid-term elections. Now that the elections are over, and voters are no longer paying attention, the bill’s co-sponsors, including Iowa’s own Charles Grassley are back to the business of censoring your internet. If it passes, the COICA threatens to deny you access to blacklisted websites, massively increase Internet data transfer costs, undermine innovation and trample your Constitutional right to free speech.

What Can You Do?
Don’t let this bill pass. Don’t let the movie and recording industries punish artists and fans and dictate which websites survive. Don’t let these corporate behemoths use taxpayer resources to shut down taxpayer websites. If you are an academic, please join David Post in his “Professor’s Letter” opposing the bill. If you are anyone else, sign the petition at Demand Progress, contact your Senators and Congressional Representatives. Demand that Congress defend your interests against the movie and recording industries and not the other way around.

Brett Trout

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