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Ever since a group of Senators decided to introduce the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” back in September it’s been astonishing to learn that so many groups of people think the plan’s actually a good idea. In the recent push to see the COICA become law, a group of more than 40 companies and business organizations have written a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, one of the main co-sponsors of the bill, calling for action on the legislation prior to the close of the 111th Congress.However, considering that most political polls suggest that there will be a dramatic turnover in elected officials after the November 2nd elections, it’s likely that some will take advantage of the lame duck session to vote without concern for public opinion.“This legislation has attracted strong bi-partisan support in the Senate and is equally supported by a broad and diverse array of American businesses and labor unions,” said David Hirschmann, president and CEO of the GIPC. “We urge the full Senate to act on this reasonable and carefully crafted legislation that will help shut down the worst of the worst online sites that are engaged in illegal activity and costing Americans their jobs.”The Act, though intended to give the Dept of Justice the tools they think it needs to “prevent the importation into the United States of goods and services offered by an Internet site dedicated to infringing activities,” will likely have a slate of unintended consequences that are far worse than preventing people from downloading copies of Iron Man 2.The groups acknowledge in their letter that “many,” though it’s unquestionably all otherwise the sites would’ve been sued long ago, of these “rogue websites” are located outside the US yet think it’s perfectly legitimate to begin blocking access to them in the US despite the fact that most won’t be able to challenge the ruling and the sites may otherwise serve legitimate purposes.The Center for Democracy and Technology has already pointed out three distinct free speech concerns:Total suspension or blocking of a siteʼs domain name would unavoidably block lawful content as well as infringing content.Extends the courtsʼ reach to domain names owned by speakers far outside the United Stateʼs geographic borders – far from the kind of procedure that ensures a full and fair trial with all interested parties present.Encourages the blocking of domains without providing any of the procedural safeguards the Constitution requires.More importantly, the US govt would set a precedent that it’s okay to block domain names if some of the content on the domain (even if located elsewhere) is illegal in that country.“The effort to protect the rights of Internet users, human rights defenders, and citizen journalists to speak and access lawful content online will be critically harmed,” adds the CDT.The US Chamber of Commerce and the other business groups dismiss these concerns.“Some have suggested that taking action against criminals whose products can kill and whose illicit profits steal American jobs could embolden foreign governments to target Internet sites that engage in political speech,” continues the letter. “Unfortunately, some foreign countries have engaged in political censorship long before this bill was introduced and they will continue to do so regardless of whether this legislation is enacted.”Excuse me? Once again it uses sleight of hand to confuse the argument. File-sharing sites don’t “steal American jobs.” It’s a ruse. Even if the all the sites in the world were eliminated this very moment, all we would see is a slight shifting of revenue from other sectors of the economy where file-sharers currently spend the money that would have otherwise been spent on accessing copyrighted material. There would be no magic creation of wealth and jobs out of thin air.“That does not mean, however, that the United States should be powerless to take action against the worst of the worst counterfeiters andcopyright pirates online.It goes on to point out that WTO member countries have all agreed in a binding international instrument to take action against counterfeiting and piracy on a commercial scale, but file-sharing is hardly commercial in nature. That’s why it’s called file-sharing. “This legislation will facilitate continued innovation and consumer access to digital products and services, while protecting consumers against rogue sites whose only purpose is to offer stolen content or counterfeit products,” says Hirschmann.I doubt “protecting consumers” is what they have in mind by trying to get The Pirate Bay and other BitTorrent tracker sites blocked in the US.It says that the legislation “should in no way be used by other countries as a pretext to support censorship that takes place outside agreed upon principles of international law,” but it’s almost certain to happen, and will make it that much tougher to criticize Iran for blocking foreign opposition sites that contain “copyrighted” material or other content otherwise violating the country’s strict laws.The funniest part is the closing line of the letter. where it “commends” the Senator’s efforts to “carefully craft S.3804 to adhere to constitutional requirements that protect free speech and provide appropriate due process for all affected parties.” I doubt that the admin of a BitTorrent tracker site will be able to or want to make the trek from say the Ukraine all the way to a DC courtroom just because some US entertainment company says it’s hoisting a CAM copies of the latest movies. Also, as the CDT points out, blocking an entire site accused of copyright infringement will undoubtedly also block lawful content in the process. There’s also the pesky matter of harming the Internet itself.A group of 87 prominent engineers who played critical roles in the development of the Internet have already voiced their objections to the COICA, warning that it “will risk fragmenting the Internet’s global domain name system (DNS), create an environment of tremendous fear and uncertainty for technological innovation, and seriously harm the credibility of the United States in its role as a steward of key Internet infrastructure.”Moreover, with the motion picture industry alone reporting a 30% increase in global ticket sales are since 2005, it’s hard to imagine why it thinks the matter is so urgent for US consumers. Even the Government Accountability Office has acknowledged that the “illicit nature” of piracy means there is no real way to quantify actual losses, and that some studies have in fact shown piracy to have a “potential positive economic effect.”