In a Feb.13, 2011 letter of support for the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) released by the Romance Writers of America, Nora Roberts announced her endorsement of this controversial 2010 anti-piracy legislation. Sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), COICA (Senate Bill 3804) would have given the government the right to shut down any Internet domain name judged to be “dedicated to infringing activities.”
Although COICA was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 18, 2010, it failed to reach the Senate floor for a full vote before the close of the 111th Congress. Given the importance of this issue, it is quite possible that the legislation will be reintroduced during the coming year.
COICA was endorsed by the Property Rights Alliance, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Association of American Publishers. Writers, artists, performers, musicians and other creative artists claimed that the Internet has made online piracy an all too frequent practice, devaluing their original creations. In the following passage from her letter, Roberts summarized their position.
“The Internet is an extraordinary tool, and with it, we can access information with a few keystrokes,” wrote Roberts. “But there is a difference, wide and deep, between information and creative property. We use words to express our imaginations, to tell stories that entertain, that bring comfort, offer amusement or solace. Melding that imagination with words to create a book takes work, time, effort, talent. The storyteller and the book that comes from her through that work, that talent, must be valued and respected.”
What appeared to be a protective measure to one group, however, was seen as censorship by another. Opponents of COICA included the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Distributed Computing Industry Association. These organizations were concerned that the level of evidence required by COICA for shutting down suspected sites was dangerously vague.
Even those who challenged COICA, though, recognized the importance of the piracy issue. As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), one of COICA’s most vocal critics, said, “It seems to me that online copyright infringement is a legitimate problem … but it seems to me that COICA as written is the wrong medicine. Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb when what you really need is a precision-guided missile.”
If it chooses to do so, the 112th Congress will have almost two years to work on the original COICA legislation. It is to be hoped that its language can be improved to a point that will satisfy all who are concerned about this matter.