By Barry Neil Shrum & Nathan Drake
Since before the day that Napster was a twinkle in Sean Parker’s eye – well over a decade ago now – the legal and music industries have each struggled with ways to cope with and transform their dusty old business models from the physical status quo to the digital revolution. After the industry watchdog, the RIAA, initially targeted the Diamond Multimedia’s Rio MP3 player and then Parker, and then finally individuals were illegally downloading, the major record labels began to realize something: that perhaps the fact that consumers were downloading music illegally was merely a symptom of the problem rather than the source of the problem. So, the RIAA also began suing P2P file-sharing websites that sprang up instantly in the place of Napster, websites like Kazaa and LimeWire. While this method proved to be a bit more effective, the process still accomplished little in preventing future P2P file sharing services from materializing, each taking the place of its predecessor and each growing as rapidly as the one before. In yet another continuing effort to solve the music industry’s nightmare, new legislation has been introduced to Senate which is entitled “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act.” (S. 3804)
The purpose of the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (COICA) is to provide owners of intellectual property additional weapons in the battle against illegal downloading. As indicated, the inherent difficulty of deterring and prosecuting these myriad individuals who are profiting off copyrighted materials is that they easily hide behind the anonymous wall of the Internet. Many of the sites providing access to this illegal property are situated well off the shores of the United States, overseas and beyond the long reach of the court’s jurisdiction.
Another problem is the sheer mass of the problem. One study indicates that as much as 1 in 4 Internet users download illegal music – an astonishing statistic! Let me state that another way: 25% of the traffic on the Internet is to sites that allow illegal downloading of copyrighted material, be it digital books, movies or music.
As Senator Leahy, one of the sponsors of COICA says, it is essential that the government enforce a
“means for preventing the importation of infringing goods by rogue websites, particularly for sites that are registered overseas.”
Through focusing on the domain names, COICA gives the Department of Justice the authority to pursue and prosecute offending website, both domestically and abroad. Incentivizing and rewarding creative endeavors remains the core ideology of American copyright protection, and instilling this value in our society is crucial if our society will continue to create. According to the Chamber of Commerce, “…American intellectual property accounts for more than $5 trillion and IP-intensive industries employ more than 18 million workers.” Therefore, protecting this integral aspect of American ingenuity and economy should be a priority.
Additionally, COICA provides universal jurisdiction to the Department of Justice in pursuing and prosecuting domain names that solicit American intellectual property in the United States. If the law succeeds, individuals committing copyright infringement will no longer be able to hide behind the protection of their native country, without fearing that their action can and will be pursued by the United States.
In addition, COICA allows third party participants to be prosecuted for “enabling” the website to sustain itself and lend legitimacy to the practices and products of the website. As Senator Leahy states, “These