Lawmakers seek to seize domains in anti-piracy war

By Mike Fischer on September 22, 2010, 9:30 AM
The Obama administration released its plans last June to take a tougher stance against Internet piracy, and Monday US lawmakers released their contribution: legislation that could allow the Department of Justice to seize the domain names of websites that promote copyright infringement. Introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy and dubbed the "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act," the bill once again raises the issues of intellectual property rights versus Internet usage control and censorship. Proponents include the MPAA, RIAA, and the Screen Actors Guild, which stated, "This legislation will make it easier to shut down 'rogue' websites, which are dedicated to stealing the films, television programs and music created by our members."

But what exactly constitutes a "rogue" website? A side effect of this proposal would allow lawmakers to target sites beyond the usual piracy suspects, such as Wikileaks, known for publishing government documents and sensitive, sometimes classified, information. Opponents including the Electronic Frontier Foundation see the bill as the another restriction on freedom of speech on the Internet, citing the broad classification of sites "dedicated to infringing activities," as well as the blockage of whole sites and not just the offending material.

The ability to shut down domain names has long been sought after by the Department of Justice and copyright control groups, especially after the July seizure of nine television and movie streaming sites, which marked a departure from previous legal action which targeted website operators. But it appears unclear what arbitration would be in place for those accused of Internet piracy, as well as what would replace any website after shutdown. As the EFF states, "the bill gives the government power to play an endless game of whack-a-mole," but adds that the strength of the Internet piracy community lies in its ability to adapt and work around restrictions.

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