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Website Takedown Bill to be Reintroduced

May 11, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

COICA, the Democrats’ bill from last year to let the government shutdown websites they deem to be involved in copyright infringement, has been rewritten and made even broader. Ars Technica reports that the bill will be introduced soon, under a new name, the “PROTECT IP Act,” and with some new provisions that would require search engines to get involved in the domain blocking game as well.

The PROTECT IP Act makes a few major changes to last year’s COICA legislation. First, it does provide a more limited definition of sites “dedicated to infringing activities.” The previous definition was criticized as being unworkably vague, and it could have put many legitimate sites at risk.

But what the PROTECT IP Act gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. While the definition of targeted sites is tighter, the remedies against such sites get broader. COICA would have forced credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa to stop doing business with targeted sites, and it would have prevented ad networks from working with such sites. It also suggested a system of DNS blocking to make site nominally more difficult to access.

The PROTECT IP Act adds one more entity to this list: search engines. Last week, when the Department of Homeland Security leaned on Mozilla to remove a Firefox add-on making it simple to bypass domain name seizures, we wondered at the request. After all, the add-on only made it easier to do a simple Google search, and we wondered “what the next logical step in this progression will be: requiring search engines to stop returning results for seized domain names?”

Turns out that’s exactly what’s being contemplated. According to the detailed summary of the PROTECT IP Act, this addition “responds to concerns raised that search engines are part of the ecosystem that directs Internet user traffic and therefore should be part of the solution.”

Although COICA was a Democratic proposal, sponsored by Sen. Pat Leahy [D, VT], it had a handful of Republican co-sponsors. It had the backing of both Republican-leaning groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Democratic-leaning groups like the Motion Pictures Association of America and some unions. With the Congress now split between the two parties, this could be the year for pushing through a bipartisan, big-business-backed bill like this. Unless, of course, internet users and content producers put up a fight.

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