According to Techdirt, it is quite a surprise that Sen. Al Franken, a well-known believer of “internet freedom,” now supports censoring the internet via the Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act (COICA). This act is an internet censorship bill that attempts to prevent copyright infringement. Essentially, “if infringement is ‘central’ to the purpose of the site,” it would be place on “a blacklist of censored domains.” Hence, hosting websites such as MediaFire and Rapidshare may be gone.
On the other hand, this bill is criticized by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for the enormous collateral damage it may have on the cyberspace. Potentially, it may also target non-infringing contents, such as “sites that discuss and make the controversial political and intellectual case for piracy.” If this bill passes, Youtube and many other “legitimate” online service providers could disappear off the web. Further, “this act would allow the Attorney General to censor sites even when no court has found they have infringed copyright or any other law.”
Franken, a Minnestota Dem, seems to think otherwise, though he “has spoken out repeatedly against attempts to limit speech on the internet.” According to an interview with Ars Technica, Franken thinks censoring the internet is acceptable after all because he does not think the entertainment world “should have to adapt to the changing internet”:
The other side of this, of course, is that this is about, essentially, stealing copyrighted material and selling counterfeit goods. This goes to tens of billions of dollars in theft. Some of the supporters of this were after the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists, the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild… I happen to belong to all three of those unions. This doesn’t just affect the jobs of writers and directors and producers; when they’re free to steal all this intellectual material, it changes the business model of a movie. So it really costs the jobs of the technicians and the crew and the craft services people. It changes the entire business model for the industry. It’s not just movies and TV, it’s everything.
Techdirt is disappointed with Franken’s response and his choice of words – “stealing” and “theft” – because they are legally incorrect and troubling. Moreover, he believes that it is not the government’s job to protect the entertainment companies’ business models that are affected by new technologies, such as the internet.
Nonetheless, Franken says that he has “tried to tighten the definition of who could be targeted under the bill” and will make sure that the act “is narrowly tailored and will not unwittingly lead to the blocking of legitimate speech that is protected by the First Amendment.” Yet, Techdirt believes this mission would be difficult to accomplish since it is unlikely that internet censorship would target only one type of speech without adversely affecting the others.