Back in September we covered new legislation that would allow the government greater latitude in shutting down file sharing and P2P websites. Yesterday that bill unanimously passed a vote in the Senate's Judicial Committee, taking it one step closer to implementation as a law.

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, or COICA, would grant the Department of Justice the ability to seize and shut down the domain names of "rogue websites" that promote copyright infringement. Currently all domain names, including those outside the U.S., are managed by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. With this bill a new precedent may be set, allowing a governmental agency to deny access to a website internationally as well as domestically.

The process for shutting down a rogue site would still require a civil lawsuit to determine if copyright violation has occurred. The change would come in the outcome, where traditionally damages are awarded. The new system would allow for a request to take the domain offline, effectively removing the site from the Internet. This has already been used against several streaming video sites and has drawn praise from copyright groups hoping to see it become standard procedure.

The MPAA and RIAA have already released lists of sites they would like to see eliminated including The Pirate Bay, isoHunt, and Demonoid, among others. Demonoid has asked its users to protest passage of the bill, and is joined by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation in fighting what they see as a form of Internet censorship. Comparisons to China and Iran have already been made, along with predictions of damaging the Internet as a whole, stifling future innovation, and imposing unconstitutional restrictions on free speech.