Congress Proposes Bill to Censor Internet

A new bill in Congress could change the face of the Web.

Senator Patrick Leahy announced the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, proposed Sept. 20, which would allow Congress to blacklist the domain name of any website it deems that is “primarily designed, has no demonstrable, commercially significant purpose or use other than, or is marketed by its operator, or by a person acting in concert with the operator…to sell or distribute goods, services, or materials bearing a counterfeit mark.”

Many students today use the Internet on a daily basis but some sites may go away under a proposed bill.

Uh oh kids, some of those sites you visit, like p2pnet and Rapidshare, could be in danger with this bill.

The main types of websites that will be in jeopardy if this legislation passes are hosting sites such as Dropbox and MediaFire, mp3 mashup sites like SoundCloud and Hype Machine, and any site that makes the case for piracy.

Five years ago, Youtube would have been one of those sites in danger. But given the amount of users and Youtube’s recent victory over Viacom, the likelihood of Youtube actually being taken down seems very small. However, any website similar to Youtube that contains copyrighted work? If this bill passes, they might just be taken down.

“This is wrong,” said Mark Hutchins, a sophomore, “The websites should at least be notified and taken to court before being shut down. They (Congress) could use this to take down anything that disagrees with them, like China does.”

This bill has caused an uproar in certain internet free speech organizations, including The Huffington Post (which has an online petition against the bill) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.The EFF has an open letter on their web site to congress from 96 people that helped pioneer the web. The link to the letter:

“…If enacted, this legislation will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS), create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation…” said the letter. Among the names who signed the letter were Jim Warren, who worked on the ARPAnet (one of the precursors to the internet), Bill Jennings, who was VP of engineering at Cisco for ten years, and Brian Pinkerton, founder of the first search engine, Webcrawler.

Locally, Penn Manor’s tech guru is troubled by the proposed legislation.

“It appears to be a knee-jerk, shotgun blast reaction that could potentially inflict considerable collateral damage on legitimate sites and content,” said Charlie Reisinger, Penn Manor’s Technology Director, “Clearly, the passing of this bill could have significant impact on teachers and students seeking legitimate content under the terms of fair-use. It would erode the fundamental, open architecture of the internet.”

Around the same time that the bill was announced, President Obama gave remarks at the United Nations General Assembly extolling an Internet without censorship, “We will promote new tools of communication so people are empowered to connect with one another and, in repressive societies, to do so with security,” he said.  “We will support a free and open Internet, so individuals have the information to make up their own minds.”

Those remarks were given between a call for civil rights and a comment on the enduring power of democracy.

The bill would work like this: Congress or a committee is alerted to the presence of a website that contains copyrighted content. This could include image sharing websites and hosting sites. Then the Internet Service Provider (ISP) is contacted, and the ISP blocks the domain.

Any user of that website would see their favorite page simply disappear, or could see the infamous “404 Not Found” message.

“No!” exclaimed sophomore Will Frank, “That would be horrible!”

“While I agree that the evolving nature of digital media and the Internet creates considerable pressures on legitimate copyright claims, I’m not supportive of COICA…I question the ability of the Attorney General to make determinations regarding the legitimacy of web content without due process,” added Reisinger.

This legislation is especially in direct confrontation to organizations like the Pirate Party, who work toward copyright law reform, government transparency and the User’s right to privacy.

“I don’t want this to happen,” said another student.

The Internet has had a close call.

The bill was delayed in Congress on September 30 for revisions, and many of the web’s civil rights organizations breathed a sigh of relief. According to Politico, Senator Leahy won’t try to push the bill through until after the midterm elections.

“Hopefully, it will not move forward at all,” said Reisinger.

“This is a real victory!” said an article on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website, “Make no mistake, though: this bill will be back soon enough.”

And so it will. Like a zombie rising from the grave, this bill will return.

by Gabrielle Bauman

4 thoughts on “Congress Proposes Bill to Censor Internet”

  1. I found this article while researching for an essay about why the government should censor the internet. I haven’t thought of anything other than to stop things that are already illegal, such as piracy. Curse drawing out of a hat, and the fact that I always get something I don’t like/agree with!

  2. How will this impact blogs or social news websites ? Are they in danger in case newspapers or tv stations will object against the use of their materials ?

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