It was a rare moment of bipartisanship. On Nov. 18, 2010, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) to attack the growing menace of so-called "rogue websites."
The bill targets websites "dedicated to online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods," Sen. Patrick Leahy, chair of the Judiciary Committee and co-sponsor of COICA, said in a press release. "Rogue websites are essentially digital stores selling illegal and sometimes dangerous products."
Even without COICA, the U.S. government has begun seizing the domain names of rogue websites. Officials seized nine domain names in June 2010 and another 82 names in November pursuant to the federal civil forfeiture law, 18 U.S.C. ? 2323.
It's easy for the U.S. to seize domain names registered with a U.S. registry or registrar. (A registry manages a top-level domain, such as .com or .us. A registrar handles the sale of actual domain names, such as hotels.com or wikipedia.org.) However, foreign websites that are hosted overseas and that have domain names registered with overseas registries and registrars are beyond the reach of U.S. authorities.
Critics also worry that COICA is overbroad. The bill would empower the Justice Department to go after any Internet site "dedicated to infringing activities," and COICA defines that phrase so broadly it might encompass ordinary search engines that provide some links to infringing material, or popular Web 2.0 sites where users post some infringing content or links to infringing content, according to Jonathan Band, a solo attorney who specializes in Internet law.