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Bill would let feds block pirate websites worldwide

Copyright enforcement as censorship

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US lawmakers have introduced legislation that would allow the federal government to quickly block websites anywhere in the world if they are dedicated to sharing copyrighted music or other protected content.

The “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” would empower the US Department of Justice to shut down, or block access to, websites found to be “dedicated to infringing activities.” Sites that use domain names registered by a US-based company, or a top-level-domain administered by a US-based company, would find their internet addresses frozen.

The bill also contains provisions to block sites with domain names and TLDs that are maintained by overseas companies, which are immune to US laws. Under the legislation, US attorneys would be authorized to obtain court orders directing US-based internet service providers to stop resolving the IP addresses that allow customers to access the sites. That would have the effect of making the sites inaccessible to US-based web users who don't use some sort of proxy service.

The bill, which was introduced on Monday, is sponsored by Senators Orin Hatch and Patrick Leahy and has support from at least 10 other senators. It is scheduled to be added to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s agenda for a Thursday hearing.

As Wired.com points out, it's one of the most ambitious copyright enforcement bills introduced since 2008. That was the year a bill with similar language was introduced, and then ultimately watered down amid threats of a veto by the Bush administration, which worried it would result in the feds serving as pro bono lawyers for the RIAA and other private copyright holders.

Freedom to Tinker blogger Wendy Seltzer calls piracy enforcement an “all-purpose” charge akin to tax evasion and reminds us of the recent hazards in allowing the Russian government to police Microsoft's copyrights. ®

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