California Senator Dianne Feinstein (wiki) has written a lengthy response to my letter about the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (COICA). It is extremely rare for a Senator to write a detailed and personalized response letter, and I think her words are worth sharing. Here’s the dialogue:

Dear Senator Feinstein,

The language of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) is far too loose and will be exploited to the detriment of our constitutional rights. It allows companies to censor sites without offering due process to the defendant through the Attorney General’s blacklist (Section j.1). Additionally, it strips the ability of smaller groups to defend their work by allowing the prosecution to place the burden of evidence on their lack of “technical means” (Section 2324.g).

Please do not allow the COICA to progress. This act is pure censorship and works agains the freedoms our country has fought for while degrading our international image as defenders of such liberties. We have no business investing in freedom abroad if we cannot do so at home.

I implore you to see the unconstitutionality of such an act and represent your constituents best interest of keeping the internet a place of freedom.

David Deriso

Dear Mr. Deriso:

Thank you for writing to express your opposition to the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act.”  I appreciate knowing your views on this matter. 

America’s copyright industry is one of our most important economic engines, and giving artists and inventors the incentive to produce cutting edge works is vital to the country.  The protection of intellectual property is particularly important to California, which is home to thriving film, music, and high-technology industries.  I am strongly opposed to theft of copyrighted works, and I believe copyright owners should be able to prevent their works from being illegally duplicated. 

On September 20, 2010, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (S. 3804), of which I am an original cosponsor.  This legislation is carefully crafted to address the growing problem of online piracy and copyright infringement, and would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to shut down websites which are “dedicated to infringing activities.”  These are sites that, in the bill’s language, are “primarily designed or have no demonstrable commercially significant purpose or use other than…” selling infringing or counterfeit goods. 

Please know that I have been working with California high-technology businesses and Senator Leahy to improve the bill’s language and address the concerns of legitimate high-tech businesses, public interest groups, and others.  This legislation is currently awaiting action in the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which I am a member. 

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your concerns with me. Should you have additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my staff in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-xxxx. 

Sincerely yours,
Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Her letter seems genuine although she avoids certain points. Paragraph two struck me as her way of saying that the “thriving film, music, and high-technology industries” that compose her constituency are pressuring her to pass the bill. She also argues that copyrights are among our “most important economic engines,” suggesting that the bill may nourish the famished California economy. I see where she is coming from. 

Despite her political pressures, she has indicated a desire to “improve the bill’s language and address the concerns of legitimate high-tech businesses.” Let’s hope that she will follow through.

My main criticism is that she (strategically?) neglects to address the DA’s blacklist that seems to circumvent the right to a fair trial. Also, I’d like to know what a “demonstrable commercially significant purpose or use” is. Does this mean that if sites like wiki-leaks started selling t-shirts, they would be spared? I’m not convinced that this resolves the grayness of the bill’s jurisdiction.

For the moment, I am glad that my voice was heard and can only hope that the bill’s language improves.

What do you think?

Read more of my analysis on the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (COICA). (Part 1Part 2Part 3)

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