PROTECT IP: Sharper claws, better name

Everyone in DC knows that if you want to give your bill a good shot at passing, you need two things:

  • A good acronym.
  • A good defense against the charge that your legislation will essentially shut down the free and open Internet as we know it.

Seeing as it had neither, so it was that COICA (the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act) died a meek death-by-Senatorial-hold last fall. The idea behind the bill was to shut down or block sites that traffic in pirated goods. Tech-free-speech's reliable guardian in the Senate, Ron Wyden (D-OR) called it "a bunker-busting cluster bomb, when what you need is a precision-guided missile," largely because it seemed pretty vague on just what constituted an infringing site.

But COICA has been reborn and remade, including what appears to be a heavy investment by Senate staffers in coming up with the holy grail of any legislation: A hugely long acronym that also happens to spell out words related to the actual bill: the "Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property" act, or (drumroll) PROTECT IP. Let us all pause a moment to acknowledge this remarkable legislative achievement...

...mmmm....yeah.... Oh, right -- the bill. Anyway, it gets more specific on what qualifies as an offending site (just linking to a pirate-vending site would not necessarily get you in hot water) and how quickly and decisively the government can act without more extensive due-process.

But it also introduces a potent new weapon into the government's arsenal: a requirement that search engines take down listings of so-called "seized" domain names. Google and pals (...Bing and...Alta Vista? Jeeves was asked, but did not reply) are expected to recoil at Uncle Sam telling them how to do their job and pokinf his big finger all poking in their algorithms.

PROTECT IP has bipartisan support, but may yet be in for a bumpy ride. Remember: when backed against a wall, staffers, just point to the acronym.

About the author

Jeff Horwich is the interim host of Marketplace Morning Report and a sometime-Marketplace reporter.

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