Senate Judiciary Committee Considering New COICA Bill

On February 16, 2011, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing entitled “Targeting Websites Dedicated to Stealing American IP.” Witnesses testifying before the Committee included Tom Adams (President and CEO, Rosetta Stone), Scott Turow (President, Authors Guild), Christine N. Jones (EVP, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, The Go Daddy Group, Inc.), Thomas M. Dailey (Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Verizon), and Denise Yee (Senior Trademark Counsel, Visa, Inc.). Representatives for both Google and Yahoo were invited to attend, but declined to appear. As of this writing, a webcast (lasting the entire 2 hours of the hearing) is still available.

Based on the remarks made during the hearing, it appears that the Committee is considering introducing a modified version of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) that had been introduced in the last term as S. 3804 (and passed the Committee on a 19-0 vote). The Second Session of the 111th Congress ended before further action was taken on this Bill. (Summary of the status of the bill can be found here, along with a copy of the related Committee Report submitted by Sen. Leahy on December 17, 2010.)

By congressional rules, this Bill must be re-introduced in this Congress (the 112th Congress) before any further action can be taken on it. Given the amount of public comment that the Committee received in connection with the most recent version of the Bill, and given the tenor of the comments during the February 16 hearing, it is likely that the re-introduced Bill will have some important differences from last term’s Bill. Some of the issues that may be addressed in this Bill could be a private right of action, removal of a “black list” onto which “bad” websites could be placed and some measure of safe harbor provided for the ISPs and/or other service providers who comply with the regulatory provisions of the new Bill. (For more comments on some of these provisions and their expected impact, see the comments of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (as well as additional links provided on their page) and the Center for Democracy and Technology (again, including some of the cross links within their blog relating to Digital Copyright). Of course, without seeing an actual draft yet, it is difficult to predict which provisions will end up in a new version of the Bill, if introduced this term.

During the hearing, several Senators referred to a second round of questions/comments on this initiative, which suggests that the Committee may hold a follow-up hearing. As of this writing, I could not find a scheduled hearing to re-address a potential COICA draft. At the end of the hearing, Senator Leahy commented that COICA in the last term had bipartisan support and passed in the Committee on a vote of 19-0. He closed with a promise that some version of this Bill will be reintroduced in the current term.

After the hearing concluded, Senator Leahy posted a press release that identified some of the comments that both he and other Committee members have received in support of a bill to stop counterfeiting on the Internet. (Copies of the submissions were also provided in the press release and can be found separately here.) Ranking Member Sen. Grassley’s prepared remarks can be found on the hearing summary page, and also in his own list of press releases.