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Worry Over Bill to Allow Justice Department to Censor Internet

A group of senators on Monday filed legislation that would allow the Justice Department to shut down Internet sites that violate the law.

The "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (COICA) would give the government power to censor web sites that provide illegal access to intellectual properties such as movies, music, software, and that unlawfully sell pharmaceuticals and counterfeit goods.

The bill would allow the Justice Department to take action whether the business is based in the United States or not.

“Each year, online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods cost American businesses billions of dollars, and result in hundreds of thousands of lost jobs,” Sen. Pat Leahy said. “The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act will protect the investment American companies make in developing brands and creating content and will protect the jobs associated with those investments.”

The bill does allow the owners of the sites to appeal the decision. It also protects against abuse by allowing only the Justice Department to initiate an action, and by giving a federal court the final say about whether a particular site should be shut down.

Critics, however, fear giving the government the right to censor anything on the Internet. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, the preeminent online rights organization, says although the bill "is ostensibly focused on copyright infringement, an enormous amount of non-infringing content, including political and other speech, could disappear off the Web if it passes."

It adds, "Indeed, had this bill been passed five or 10 years ago, YouTube might not exist today."


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