5 Key Questions About America’s Proposed Internet Piracy Laws

David Makarewicz
Sites & Blogs

Despite America’s “two-faced” calls for global internet freedom, this week, the Senate revived two controversial bills designed to give the U.S. government unprecedented powers to control internet property and activities.  First, the Senate rearranged and reintroduced the Internet Kill Switch bill, now called the Cybersecurity and Internet Freedom Act, which would empower the government to issue emergency orders to private companies if it declares a cyberemergency.

While America’s first declared cyberemergency may still be years away, the proposed Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Acts (COICA) threatens to have the most immediate impact on internet businesses.  This week, the Senate held a new round of hearings on COICA.  The bill, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy, would grant the Department of Justice broad new powers to control privately-owned websites, including the ability to order ad networks, payment transaction companies, and Internet service providers to cut financial ties with sites accused of infringement, or in the case of ISPs, block the sites from being accessed in the United States.

This proposal to empower the government with this an internet black list remains controversial.  However, most experts believe that Senate passage of the bill is a near certainty.  COICA is being pushed by major companies with major lobbying budgets, including the Ford Motor Co., the Motion Picture Association of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

As the debate about COICA’s likelihood to decrease both copyright infringement and internet freedom rages on, here are five issues key to the conversation:

1. Does COICA ask Americans to trade freedom for limited, short-term benefits?  Even if COICA makes sense to combat today’s technology, there is no reason to believe that it will it still make sense in five years.  If, instead, COICA is merely a mechanism to fight a war against technology that will evolve so quickly that the laws are rendered ineffective, the bill’s infringements on civil liberties become even less tolerable.  Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who derailed the previous incarnation of the bill, testified before the COICA Committee this week and reminded them that “the primary uses of the Internet are activities protected by the First Amendment, not civil or criminal violations.”  Wyden also pointed out that not long ago, legislators were calling on the Senate to save the American music industry by banning digital audio tapes.

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