It’s too early to say for sure, but Oregon Senator Ron Wyden could very well go down in the history books as the man who saved the Internet.
A bill that critics say would have given the government power to censor the Internet will not pass this year thanks to the Oregon Democrat, who announced his opposition during a recent committee hearing. Individual Senators can place holds on pending legislation, in this case meaning proponents of the bill will be forced to reintroduce the measure and will not be able to proceed until the next Congress convenes.
Even then, its passage is not certain.
The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) would have permitted a blanket takedown of any domain alleged to be assisting activities that violate copyright law, based upon the judgment of state attorneys general.
“Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb, when what you need is a precision-guided missile,” Wyden said.
The act was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday.
“Few things are more important to the future of the American economy and job creation than protecting our intellectual property,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who co-sponsored the bill.
“That is why the legislation is supported by both labor and industry, and Democrats and Republicans are standing together.”
Opponents of the bill insist that many sites which contain allegedly infringing materials also traffic in legitimate data that’s constitutionally protected. There’s also a fear that whatever action the US takes, other countries will seek to emulate, and some to a much more zealous degree.
Activist group DemandProgress, which is running a petition against the bill, argued the powers in the bill could be used for political purposes. If the whistleblower Web site WikiLeaks is found to be hosting copyrighted material, for instance, access to WikiLeaks could be blocked for all US Internet users, they suggested.
A group of academics, led by Temple University law professor David Post, have signed a petition opposing COICA.
“The Act, if enacted into law, would fundamentally alter U.S. policy towards Internet speech, and would set a dangerous precedent with potentially serious consequences for free expression and global Internet freedom,” Post wrote in the petition letter (PDF).
“Blacklisting entire sites out of the domain name system,” explained the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), a privacy and digital rights advocate group, is a “reckless scheme that will undermine global Internet infrastructure and censor legitimate online speech.”
The EFF has published a list of Web sites it believes are at highest risk of being shut down under the proposed law. Included in the list are file-hosting services such as Rapidshare and Mediafire, music mash-up sites like SoundCloud and MashupTown, as well as “sites that discuss and advocate for P2P technology or for piracy,” such as pirate-party.us and P2PNet.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, often cited as the father of the world wide web, has called Internet disconnection laws in the name of copyright protection a “blight” on the net.
With prior reporting by Daniel Tencer
A prior version of this report cited Sir Tim Berners-Lee as “the creator of the Internet.” He is in actuality the creator of technologies central to the world wide web, namely hyper-text markup language (HTML).