The vote drew sharp condemnation from digital rights groups, who say the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act would allow the government to unconstitutionally shut down speech. "Rather than just targeting files that actually infringe copyright law, COICA's 'nuclear-option' design has the government blacklisting entire sites out of the domain name system -- a reckless scheme that will undermine global Internet infrastructure and censor legitimate online speech," says the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
A coalition of more than 40 law professors likewise argues that the bill would "fundamentally alter U.S. policy towards Internet speech, and would set a dangerous precedent with potentially serious consequences for free expression and global Internet freedom."
They argue that the law is troubling because it would allow courts to order injunctions against domain registrars before hearing the Web site operators' side of the story. "The act contains no provisions designed to ensure that the persons actually responsible for the allegedly infringing content -- the operators of the target websites -- are even aware of the proceedings against them, let alone have been afforded any meaningful opportunity to contest the allegations in a true, adversarial proceeding," the law professors write.
Additionally, they argue, the law would "suppress vast amounts of protected speech containing no infringing content whatsoever," because more than one individual site can operate under a single domain name. "Indeed," the letter states, "many web hosting services operate hundreds of thousands of websites under a single domain name."
The Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America and a host of entertainment companies and unions back the bill, which has also drawn some surprising support from the Newspaper Association of America -- a group that one would expect to be especially sensitive to censorship concerns. The organization says that the law's "narrowly tailored provisions support free discourse online." And, completely ignoring the possibility that innocent sites would get swept up in a domain name takedown, the organization insists that the only sites that would be blocked are the ones primarily designed to offer infringing material. Blocking that kind of site, the NAA says, doesn't harm free speech because it "doesn't contribute to online discourse."