On November 18, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA). The bill would enable the U.S. Attorney General to obtain a court order disabling access to web domains that are “dedicated to infringing activities.”
These “rogue websites” are a real problem, as the website Fight Online Theft explains, so it’s a good thing that Congress is working to address them. However, some of COICA’s provisions raise profound constitutional concerns, and the bill lacks adequate safeguards to protect against the unwarranted suspension of Internet domain names, as the website Don’t Censor the Net argues. The bill also doesn’t provide a mechanism for website operators targeted by the Attorney General to defend their site in an adversary judicial proceeding. This week, a group of over 40 law professors submitted a letter to the U.S. Senate arguing that COICA, in its current form, suffers from “egregious Constitutional infirmities.”
To address these concerns, CEI is urging Congress to amend COICA to provide for more robust safeguards, including:
- Providing a meaningful opportunity for Internet site operators to challenge before a federal court an Attorney General’s assertion that their site is “dedicated to infringing activities” prior to the suspension of their domain name;
- Requiring that the Attorney General, upon commencing an in rem action against a domain name, make a reasonable and good faith effort to promptly notify the site’s actual operator of the action;
- Clarifying the definition of an Internet site “dedicated to infringing activities” to ensure that websites with nontrivial lawful uses that facilitate infringing acts by third parties will not face domain name suspension if their operators:
- Comply with legitimate takedown requests from rightsholders;
- Do not receive a financial benefit directly attributable to infringing activities;
- Do not design their site primarily for the purpose of facilitating infringing activities; and
- Do not induce infringing activities.
- Instructing the Department of Justice and federal prosecutors not to request that domain name registrars, registries, or service providers suspend domain names that have not been deemed to be “dedicated to infringing activities,” or otherwise unlawful, by a federal court; and
- Requiring the Department of Justice to compensate domain name registrars, registries, and service providers for any reasonable costs they incur in the course of disabling access to infringing domain names.
EDIT 11/24/10: After reviewing in greater detail the amended version of the bill (PDF), I’d like to suggest a sixth change:
- Eliminating the “Voluntary Actions” clause, which grants blanket immunity from civil liability to any domain name registry, registrar, financial provider, or ad service that “voluntarily” disables a website that it reasonably believes to be dedicated to infringing activities.