This Is War, Baby: Combating Online Infringement Act Hits the Senate

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“The legislation will give the Department of Justice tools to track and shut down websites devoted to providing access to unauthorized downloads, streaming or sale of copyrighted content and counterfeit goods.”

Looks like this weekend’s hack-job is just the beginning of a far broader war.  The latest circling hawk comes in the form of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, introduced into the Senate Monday afternoon.  The bill, introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), senior Republican member Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and various cosponsors, gives the government a much bigger enforcement gun.

And, as the name suggests, the bill is focused on hammering sites distributing content without authorization – including those outside of US borders.  Essentially, the Department of Justice will be given greater authority and tools to identify and shut down sites – a stance that invites counterattacks.  “Digital theft is a significant and growing problem for songwriters and music publishers, so we welcome today’s action in the U.S. Senate,” said National Music Publishers’ Association president and CEO David Israelite.  “There is simply no excuse for internet sites that profit illegally from the works of others to be allowed to function unchallenged.”

Valid arguments indeed, but is this worth the millions of dollars being plowed into the Hill by the music industry?  Copyright owners certainly have a right to protect their work, though hard-nosed enforcement approaches have mostly generated hostility and resistance – most recently in the form of aggressive denial-of-service attacks.  This could become quite the net-bloody battle…

Some of the aspects of the bill…

> Gives the Department of Justice an expedited process for cracking down on websites that are dedicated to making infringing goods and services available.

> Authorizes the Department of Justice to file an in rem civil action against a domain name, and seek a preliminary order from the court that the domain name is being used to traffic infringing material.  The Department must publish notice of the action promptly after filing, and it would have to meet clear criteria that focus on the sites’ substantial and repeated role in online piracy or counterfeiting.

> Provides safeguards allowing the domain name owner or site operator to petition the court to lift the order

> Provides safeguards against abuse by allowing only the Justice Department to initiate an action, and by giving a federal court the final say about whether a particular site would be cut off from supportive services.