Congress Passes Web Censorship Bill, Two Hip-Hop Sites Shut Down

censorshipCongress finally hammered out a bill on last Thursday (November 18), called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), which would empower the government to take action against websites offering unauthorized copyrighted or counterfeit content.

Last week Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the bill, in which the Attorney General gains the right to shut down websites with a court order if copyright infringement is deemed "central to the activity" of the site.

The (COICA) basically gives the Attorney General option to seize and shut down websites ... if they suspect wrongdoing. Several bloggers are calling it the industry's "nuclear option" in their attempt to combat digital piracy, because it bypasses already placed laws, the legal process of suing, and a fair trial.

It's the latest attempt by Hollywood, the music biz, and big media companies to fight back against file sharing, after losing billions of dollars over the last decade.

In addition bigger file-sharing websites, a few hip-hop websites have become targets, including popular audio/video blog OnSmash.com and online hip-hop community RapGodFathers.com.

At press time, when visiting both websites, you are greeted with an image that reads: "This domain name has been seized by ICE - Homeland Security Investigations."

The content companies have tried suing college students. They've tried suing internet startups. Now they want the federal government to act as their private security agents, policing the internet for suspected pirates before making them walk the digital plank.

Dajaz 1, aka Splash of OnSmash.com, wasn't even aware of what was going on apparently. In a series of tweets (@Splash_Dajaz1), he expressed his outrage over the situation, following his first assumption that it was the work of hackers.

"Um hackers... Applaud yourselves. You've done good. At least it was your dumb asses & not them boys," he wrote on Thanksgiving afternoon. "My site goes down & I get more followers today than I ever did. Hackers staying closer or the employees from the feds. FML either way.."

He later tried to rationalize the reasoning behind the seizure, breaking down the process of the site's staff posting music. "Hackers steal music & sell it to certain sites then the sites tag it & post it. I then get the untagged & post it so becuz I post the untagged too quickly, I mess up the $ 4 the hackers & the sites that pay for music. So erase Splash! if that's truly the case then why do that to onsmash & rapgodfather ?" Splash asked.

"I still say hacked over real seize but then again."

Hof, another OnSmash member, weighed in on Friday (November 26) offering this via Twitter (@HofOnSmash): "Nothing other than our domain has been 'seized' & I still have yet to receive any official correspondence as to WHY THIS HAPPENED. We are working closely with GoDaddy, Verisign & iCANN to gain clarity on this issue. Thank you for all your support #FreeOnSMASH"

A staff member of RGF spoke to TorrentFreak.com, who explained that they only linked to pirated content, and did not host it themselves. But, it still didn't matter.

"We only link to mixtapes, albums in the hiphop/rap genre," the staffer said, who further explained that immediately removed content when notified. "We ALWAYS removed links connected with any DMCA requests so this is a big surprise to us and our host because we collaborated to get all the links removed asap."

They have since relaunched their site at the new domain name, RapGodFathers.info.

Here's a little breakdown of what this means, as explained by Wired.com:

The content companies have tried suing college students. They've tried suing internet startups. Now they want the federal government to act as their private security agents, policing the internet for suspected pirates before making them walk the digital plank.

Many people opposed to the bill agree in principle with its aims: Illegal music piracy is, well, illegal, and should be stopped. Musicians, artists and content creators should be compensated for their work. But the law's critics do not believe that giving the federal government the right to shut down websites at will based upon a vague and arbitrary standard of evidence, even if no law-breaking has been proved, is a particularly good idea. COICA must still be approved by the full House and Senate before becoming law. A vote is unlikely before the new year.

Among the sites that could go dark if the law passes: Dropbox, RapidShare, SoundCloud, Hype Machine and any other site for which the Attorney General deems copyright infringement to be "central to the activity" of the site, according to Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group that opposes the bill. There need not even be illegal content on a site -- links alone will qualify a site for digital death. Websites at risk could also theoretically include p2pnet and pirate-party.us or any other website that advocates for peer-to-peer file sharing or rejects copyright law, according to the group.

In short, COICA would allow the federal government to censor the internet without due process.

The mechanism by which the government would do this, according to the bill, is the internet's Domain Name System (DNS), which translates web addresses into IP addresses. The bill would give the Attorney General the power to simply obtain a court order requiring internet service providers to pull the plug on suspected websites.