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Wyden Vows to Kill the Internet Censorship Bill

November 22, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act has all the qualities of a bill on the fast track for becoming law. Its chief sponsor is the chairman of the committee it was referred to, it has a long list of bipartisan cosponsors, including a mix of conservative and liberal senators, and it was reported out of committee by a unanimous 19-0 vote. But, last Friday, Sen. Ron Wyden [D, OR] threw a log in its path by announcing that he would do everything within his means to stop the bill if it is brought to the Senate floor.

The bill would give the Justice Department new power to shut down entire internet domains if they deem copyright infringement to be “central” to the domain’s business (or if they have links to domains the AG deems to be involved with infringement). It also calls for the DoJ to set up a public list of sites they hbelieve to be “dedicated to infringing activities,” but for which they have not taken action against yet.

Tech Daily Dose:

“It seems to me the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act as written today, is the wrong medicine,” Wyden, the chairman of the Finance International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness Subcommittee, said during a hearing on international trade and the digital economy. “Deploying this statute to combat online copyright and infringement seems almost like a bunker buster cluster bomb when really what you need is a precision-guided missile.”

Wyden said that unless changes are made to the bill, introduced by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to ensure it “no longer makes the global online marketplace more hazardous to consumers and American Internet companies, I’m going to do everything I can to take the necessary steps to stop it from passing the U.S. Senate.”

Wyden is literally the only senator to have taken a stand against the bill, but under Senate rules, there’s a lot a single senator can do to slow down or stop a bill, especially with time being so tight in the lame duck session.

Bills like this with little opposition generally sail thought the Senate under the unanimous consent procedure. However, it takes just one senator to object to a unanimous consent motion for the whole process to be thwarted. Once a senator objects to unanimous consent, at least 16 supporters of the bill have to sign a cloture petition asking for a vote to proceed to the bill. After the petition is presented to the Senate, it “ripens” until the second calendar day after it was filed. After that, a cloture vote is held on the motion. If cloture is invoked, the objecting senator can then force up to 30 hours of debate before the next cloture vote occurs, which (after amendments) will be on the bill itself. If that’s invoked, the objecting senator can then force another 30 hours of debate before an up-or-down vote on passageis taken.

Bottom line: a single senator can stall a bill and shut down all other action on the Senate floor for a week or more. And with the expiring Bush tax cuts, government funding, unemployment benefits, the New START treaty and other important items facing the lame duck session when they return next week, they simply don’t have that kind of time to set aside for this bill.

Wyden is pictured above.

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