Understanding COICA, America's horrific proposed net-censorship bill

COICA is back: that's the proposed US law that would establish a "Great Firewall of America" used to nationally censor the Internet to block putatively infringing websites. Progress on COICA was suspended during the midterms, but now it's back in the Senate and on the schedule for this Thursday. Peter Eckersley from the Electronic Frontier Foundation has legislative analysis summing up four important objections to the legislation:

  1. This bill won't help creators get paid when their work is distributed online. In fact, it will do the opposite.
  2. This is a censorship bill, with a blacklist and everything.
  3. The bill will undermine the Internet's Domain Name System and massively increase data traffic costs.
  4. The bill is an unconstitutional restriction on freedom of speech and a threat to innovation.

This is a censorship bill, with a blacklist and everything. Hollywood's previous adventures with blacklists were a dark period in American history. This time, it's not people suspected of being too communist, it's websites suspected of being too "piratical." Senator Leahy is leading the government into the swamp of trying to decide which websites should be blacklisted and which ones shouldn't, and they're going to discover that the line between copyright infringement and free political speech can be awfully murky.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act's (DMCA) copyright enforcement provisions give copyright owners the relatively narrow power to remove just their copyrighted content from a website. Even then, there have been numerous mistakes, mishaps, and abuses of that narrow takedown system to censor legitimate speech online. Now imagine the mistakes, mishaps, and abuses we'll see with COICA's broader, government-initiated, domain-wide takedowns.

The Case Against COICA