New Bill Would Force ISPs to Block Piracy Websites

New Bill Would Force ISPs to Block Piracy Websites

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act would give the Department of Justice an “expedited process” for cracking down on websites that illegally make copyrighted material available, including the ability to “prevent the importation into the United States of goods and services offered by an Internet site dedicated to infringing activities.”

A group of Senators have announced the introduction of a bill they believe will “address the growing problem of online piracy and counterfeiting.”

The legislation, “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act,” is cosponsored by Committee members Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Senators Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) are also cosponsors of the legislation.

They believe the Bill would give the Dept of Justice the tools it needs to track and shut down “websites devoted to providing access to unauthorized downloads, streaming or sale of copyrighted content and counterfeit goods.”

It’s the latter part that should have many worried because it goes to the heart of noncommercial online copyright infringement. Unlike sites that traffic in physical counterfeit goods, illegal P2P and streaming sites aren’t concerned with making a profit. It’s a very real distinction that seems to be ignored in this Bill.

The worst part is that the tools the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” would give the Dept of Justice to fight the problem are fairly heavy handed. Now it’s always been able to lock and suspend domestic websites, but now it would be able to go after foreign websites in order to “prevent the importation into the United States of goods and services offered by an Internet site dedicated to infringing activities if…(it) harms intellectual property rights holders that are residents of the United States.”

The Bill would give courts the power to order ISPs to prevent access to infringing websites by US citizens if the site is found to illegally offer copyrighted material.

According to the Bill, an ISP “shall take reasonable steps that will prevent a domain name from resolving to that domain name’s Internet protocol address.”

For copyright holders like the MPAA the Bill would be a serious legislative windfall, and it’s already made clear it’s happiness with the proposal.

“We’re very pleased to join a great number of creators and workers from throughout the motion picture and television industry in support today of this important legislation to combat efforts to steal the lifeblood of one of our nation’s most important industries,” it says in a press release. “We commend and thank Chairman Leahy for his leadership on this important matter.”

Yet, the problem is that many, the Bill’s sponsors included, sadly seem to think that commercial and noncommercial copyright infringement are one in the same. They are not. There is a very big difference between trying to unfairly profit from the hard work of others and sharing content for others to enjoy for FREE.

““In today’s global economy the Internet has become the glue of international commerce — connecting consumers with a wide-array of products and services worldwide. But it’s also become a tool for online thieves to sell counterfeit and pirated goods, making hundreds of millions of dollars off of stolen American intellectual property,” says Hatch. “This legislation is critical to our continued fight against online piracy and counterfeiting. By coordinating our efforts with industry stakeholders and law enforcement officials, we’ll be better able to target those who are profiting from illegal activity.”

But, nobody’s profiting from file-SHARING, and it’s unfair to link the two.

Sadly, the RIAA doesn’t seem to care, and is surely trying to confuse the two in the minds of the Bill’s sponsors and the public at large.

RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol claims that “trafficking of pirated American movies and music from rogue websites outside our borders is a big business,” and calls the Bill a “welcome first step toward cutting off the financial lifeline that sustains these illegal operations and threatens the livelihoods of countless members of the American music community.”

Yet, I’d love to see exactly what sites he’s referring to and how trying to block access to them by US citizens will any way help the “livelihoods” of the American music community, especially when a recent study found that the income of musicians is up some 66% since the advent of digital music.

Moreover, if the Bill is passed there’s no way of telling just how many websites would eventually be blocked, placing the US at risk of having almost as highly a filtered version of the Internet as countries like China.

Let’s hope the Bill dies a quick death.

Stay tuned.

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