Judiciary Panel Passes ‘Copyright Infringement’ Bill 19-0

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Senate Judiciary Committee gave a unanimous thumbs up today to a bill that would give sweeping powers to the Department of Justice to take offline websites whose sole purpose is deemed to be the infringement of copyrighted content. In a 19-0 vote, the committee voted to pass the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which was introduced in September.

"Rogue websites are essentially digital stores selling illegal and sometimes dangerous products,” said the bill's sponsor, committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), in a statement. “If they existed in the physical world, the store would be shuttered immediately and the proprietors would be arrested. We cannot excuse the behavior because it happens online and the owners operate overseas. The Internet needs to be free—not lawless."

Leahy added that, despite the fact that it has not publicly said so, the White House backs the measure, which would allow the Attorney General to seek court orders requiring registrars, registries, ad networks and financial institutions to prevent charged websites from being accessed or conducting business. The bill targets domain names only, and not website IP addresses, and is designed to address websites both domestic and foreign.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “A stark reminder of the theater of online piracy came this week when the first 36 minutes of Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows—Part 1, which opens this weekend, appeared Tuesday on the BitTorrent file-sharing network. The studio is still investigating how the footage leaked onto the internet.”

In a reaction to the vote posted to the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) website, Peter Eckersley wrote, “EFF is deeply disappointed … that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the COICA Internet censorship bill this morning, despite bipartisan opposition, and countless experts pointing out how it would be ineffective, unconstitutional, bad for innovation and the tech economy, and would break the internet.

“Notably,” he continued, “Senator Feinstein and Senator Coburn commented on the need for more work on elements of the bill—an important consideration as negotiations shift to the Senate at large. The bill is unlikely to come up again until next session, and in the meantime, we look forward to educating Congress about the dangers in COICA, and joining others to oppose this or any other infringement ‘solution’ that threatens lawful speech online.”

According to the National Journal, Feinstein was "particularly concerned about the domain name remedy," and said the committee should be "open-minded to the alternatives on this one point."

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla)., who was not at the markup hearing, indicated to Judiciary ranking member Jeff Sessions that he felt the bill would need more work and has requested a hearing on the measure.

An amendment to the bill proposed by Leahy was also passed in a voice vote by the committee.

Bob Pisano, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), said, "It will take a strong, sustained effort to stop internet thieves and profiteers. We believe that Congress and the [Obama] administration can make a significant contribution to that effort by turning the Leahy-Hatch bill into law and giving law enforcement significantly enhanced tools for addressing a threat that deprives American innovators of the fruits of their labors and menaces our nation's economic health."

The full Senate is not expected to vote on the bill until next year.