Advocacy group slams online-piracy bill as censorship

"COICA is a fairly short bill, but it could have a longstanding and dangerous impact on freedom of speech, current Internet architecture, copyright doctrine, foreign policy, and beyond," Esguerra wrote. "In 2010, if there's anything we've learned about efforts to re-write copyright law to target 'piracy' online, it's that they are likely to have unintended consequences."

Esguerra took particular exception to a provision in the bill that allows the government to block not just the offending website but an entire domain, which he said is a violation of the First Amendment. He also said passage of the bill would send a message to totalitarian regimes across the world that the U.S. endorses unilateral censorship of the Web.

Esguerra was also unimpressed with the bill's provisions for squashing piracy, calling the approach futile.

"The bill gives the government power to play an endless game of whack-a-mole, blocking one domain after another, but even a relatively unsophisticated technologist can begin to imagine the workarounds" such as peer-to-peer file sharing and other tools.

"To us, COICA looks like another misguided gift to a shortsighted industry whose first instinct with respect to the Internet is to try to break it," Esguerra wrote in closing.

"There are still many questions to be answered, but one thing is for sure — this bill allows the government to suppress truthful speech and could block access to a wealth of non-infringing speech, and the end result will do little to protect artists or mollify the industries that profit from them."