On Thursday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved a bill that would grant the Department of Justice the power to shut down any domestic website suspected to rely on copyright infringement as "central" to its activity. A site would not need to have committed a crime to be shut down—suspicion is sufficient grounds for closure—and the bill also grants the DOJ the right to demand that internet providers re-route their customers from foreign sites suspected of heavy copyright infringement.
According to Wired's Sam Gustin, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) is "among the most draconian laws ever considered to combat digital piracy, and contains what some have called the 'nuclear option', which would essentially allow the Attorney General to turn suspected websites 'off'."
Gustin says sites that could be shut down following this bill's passage include Dropbox, RapidShare, SoundCloud, Hype Machine and any peer-to-peer file sharing sites, and notes that a site need not contain illegal content to be closed—"links alone will qualify a site for digital death".
Supporters include, predictably, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, but also Mark Corallo, the chief spokesperson for former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Opponents include the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, prominent internet engineers, law professors, conservative bloggers and Senator Ron Wyden, who told Raw Story:
Deploying this statute to combat online copyright infringement seems almost like using a bunker-busting cluster bomb, when what you need is a precision-guided missile.
Wyden's employing his right as an individual senator to put a "hold" on the bill, which means that it's being postponed until the next legislative session (which begins on January 5).