What It Is:
COICA stands for the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. It is a bill that has been proposed in the Senate that would allow the Attorney General to bring an in rem action against any domain name that is found to be “dedicated to infringing activities.” Dedicated to infringing activities could potentially mean anything from merely linking to infringing content or where counterfeits are sold to hosting copyrighted works without permission. Once a judge has agreed that the site in question has met the criteria, the Attorney General would then be able to compel the registry or registrar to block the domain name, online advertisers to cease placing ads on that domain name, and financial transaction providers (like Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal) to stop processing transactions associated with that domain name.
Why It's Important:
COICA has created a lot of debate since it was first introduced late last year. Rightsholders argue that DMCA takedown requests put a huge burden on them to protect their rights online because copyright and trademark infringement is so widespread on the web. They believe that the government should be more involved in cracking down on online infringers and protecting the intellectual property of American corporations. Critics of the bill warn that the bill is worded too broadly, does not allow for adequate due process, and that the use of domain name system filtering to block infringing sites will end up blocking innocent websites and create possible First Amendment violations. Others say that domain name system filtering would be easily circumvented and could lead to the fracturing the Internet in a way that would destroy the open web as we know it today.
Both sides have important concerns, and Congress is attempting to balance intellectual property rights, free speech, and Internet freedoms in a way that could potentially affect you and your web surfing habits should the bill pass. COICA or something like it being made into law sometime within the next couple of years is very likely, and having a basic understanding of the issues surrounding online intellectual property enforcement legislation is vital for anyone involved in selling copyrighted works like music or merchandise promoting trademarks like band logos.
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