Help Fight The Internet Blacklist

http://www.softendo.com/mario_games_3/super_mario_pipe_arcade.jpgI’ve started working with a new PAC, called Demand Progress, which we’ve started to help push a progressive agenda in Washington.  I’m excited to say that we’re off to a fast start — we launched our first campaign last week and Hollywood insiders are already accusing us of “paralyzing the legislative process.”

We’ve been fighting back against the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which was introduced at the entertainment industry’s request.  The bill vastly expands the government’s ability to censor the Internet — and it’s completely juiced and ready to go, having initially been scheduled for committee vote just 10 days after introduction in our supposedly gridlocked Congress.  (Which still knows how to look alive when the right special interests come calling.)

There’s a coalition that’s sprung up to fight it, and we’ve been working the grassroots on its behalf — pushing a petition with more than 200,000 signers (please sign!), getting thousands of calls placed to Congressional offices, and blowing the story open online.

Here’s how the bill would work:

COICA creates two blacklists of Internet domain names. Courts could add sites to the first list; the Attorney General would have control over the second. Internet service providers and others (everyone from Comcast to PayPal to Google AdSense) would be required to block any domains on the first list. They would also receive immunity (and presumably the good favor of the government) if they block domains on the second list.

The lists are for sites “dedicated to infringing activity,” but that’s defined very broadly — any domain name where counterfeit goods or copyrighted material are “central to the activity of the Internet site” could be blocked.

One example of what this means in practice: sites like YouTube could be censored in the US. Copyright holders like Viacom often argue copyrighted material is central to the activity of YouTube, but under current US law, YouTube is perfectly legal as long as they take down copyrighted material when they’re informed about it — which is why Viacom lost to YouTube in court.

But if COICA passes, Viacom wouldn’t even need to prove YouTube is doing anything illegal to get it shut down — as long as they can persuade the courts that enough other people are using it for copyright infringement, the whole site could be censored.

Perhaps even more disturbing: Even if Viacom couldn’t get a court to compel censorship of a YouTube or a similar site, the DOJ could put it on the second blacklist and encourage ISPs to block it even without a court order. (ISPs have ample reason to abide the will of the powerful DOJ, even if the law doesn’t formally require them to do so.)

The Senate left for their break without taking action, and has agreed to amend important parts of the legislation.  But there’s still more work to be done — please sign on to our petition, and help us push back.

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