It’s hard for me to be sympathetic to the entertainment industry and its frustration with online piracy. For the last decade industry executives have consistently focused on using the legal system to protect their aging business models rather than focusing on the innovations necessary to deliver the products and services consumers want.

The entertainment industry’s newest legal tactic, the “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act,” (COICA), sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy, has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. While Senator Ron Wyden exercised his right to place a hold on pending legislation — which will stop the bill from traveling to the Senate floor immediately — proponents of COICA can (and most assuredly will) reintroduce the measure the next time Congress convenes in 2011.

This bill is short but significant. For the first time, it will give the government the power to censor the Domain Name System (DNS), one of the most critical pieces of infrastructure for the Internet.

The DNS is like a global phonebook for the Internet: always running in the background and used anytime you do anything on the Internet, including sending email and browsing websites. It’s been running without government interference for the last 25 years and it has helped enable the tremendous economic growth and innovation the Internet has provided to the U.S. and the World over the last two decades.

My company provides DNS services, and in fact one of the many features of our service gives our customers the ability to block sites on their Internet connections. Parents and school administrators block sites they deem unsafe or inappropriate for their children, and business managers block sites they deem inappropriate for a work environment. Ironically, our existence and our technical innovations in the market helped to spawn the idea for the legislation in the first place by showing that blocking sites through the DNS is technically possible. While the technology being proposed is similar, the implementation couldn’t be more different from ours.

COICA would induce all Internet Service Providers, including the largest like Comcast and Verizon, to start censoring sites on a pair of blacklists: one published and maintained by the Department of Justice without judicial oversight, and the other by the Attorney General. Sites that have been in the past or could today be considered for these lists include Ebay, YouTube, Dropbox, Facebook, SoundCloud, Veoh, Rapidshare and many other popular Internet websites. A site is a potential target for these lists if infringement, or linking to infringement, might be considered “central” to the site. Worse yet, getting on the list is easy but getting off could be quite difficult as it’s not clear what process will be in place to get off the list, even when a listing is done in error. The consequences for a law-abiding business of being blacklisted would be extremely dire.

The differences between the services my company provides and what the government is proposing are stark. We have always operated our service in a way that provides choice and control to our millions of users and customers. What COICA proposes would induce, and in some cases, force ISPs — including yours — to block websites for you without your input. The Internet is a global phenomenon and at OpenDNS we serve a global audience with customers around the world. If we are forced to block something due to a mandate by the U.S. federal government it would impact all our users, not just those in the U.S. That’s a terrible precedent for the U.S. government to set.

Furthermore, as we’ve seen with the ongoing saga, the government will try and utilize whatever resources it can to take sites offline. There is absolutely no need to arm them with a tool to automate it, let alone one that sits outside of any judicial review as COICA does.

Blocking a domain name is black and white act, meaning that if the Justice Department decided that one aspect of a website was enough to make infringement “central” their only recourse would be to block the entire website rather than systematically removing the infringing portion. For many sites this would lead to massive censorship of data and speech that was non-infringing.

Ironically, because the legal definition of what facilitates copyright infringement is so broad, even the website published by the Department of Justice that they use to list infringing websites might meet the criteria for being blocked itself!

Finally, the entertainment industry already has at its disposal ample legal remedy to enforce copyright infringement: The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA provides a mechanism for copyright holders to have infringing content on the Internet removed promptly without government enforcement. It also provides means of stopping sites that facilitate copyright infringing activity and was successfully used by the entertainment industry to shut down companies like Napster and Scour.

The legislation that will be considered by the Senate is not about stopping computer viruses, fighting terrorism, improving our economy or protecting children. The legislation being considered is about the US Government acting as the police force on behalf of the entertainment industry. If passed it could have far-reaching consequences on the Internet in the form of censorship, instability and economic damages.

The United States has many challenges to tackle and the Department of Justice, the Attorney General, and Congress should be focused on the many more important issues that face our nation rather than the demands of an aggressive entertainment industry lobbying effort.

More information about COICA can be found here:

  • John Riley

    So damn true. This bill is dangerous to our constitutionally-protected rights. Other countries may be censoring their citizens, but this doesn’t belong in the home of the free.

  • rlocone

    Can they block a site from the root servers?

  • David Ulevitch, Founder/CEO

    @rlocone — The root servers are not run by any single organization (by design), so in essence, no.

  • Don B

    COICA is a terrible bill on many levels. However,

    1) The ad hoc DoJ blacklist was taken out of the bill at the end of September.

    2) Given actions by DoJ and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in June and again last week, the government doesn’t need COICA to mess with DNS.

  • Mark Wilhelm

    Would OpenDNS be forced to follow the blacklist? If not, and if COICA ever happens, then I could imagine OpenDNS’s userbase might grow exponentially.

  • Arnan

    The US goofyment is nuts for even considering this. I’m not in the US, i’m not even american. I don’t know all that much what’s going on in there. But i keep hearing these stories and can’t help thinking “glad im not an american or living in the US”

  • Will

    Mark: “If we are forced to block something due to a mandate by the U.S. federal government it would impact all our users, not just those in the U.S.”

    So yes they would have to blacklist everyone as well or OpenDNS itself could/would be forced to close.

    This whole idea is just stupid and illegal in my eyes!!

  • Anonymous OSU student

    At my school, in their attempt to block access to sites like Wikileaks, they have not only filtered out * from the DNS records, but they are actually blocking use of any DNS servers they don’t control. I cannot access anything outside the network over port 53, or anything at all from any of your DNS servers. This is something they have never done before.

  • Daniel

    This isn’t about protecting the entertainment industries copyrights. This is a major step in eliminating the 1st amendment. The goverment is very afraid of the internet and vast increase scrutiny it has focused on them. They don’t like the fact they can’t control it like it does with all other media. Just listen to what Jay Rockefeller said last spring.

    He said the internet should never have been created!

    If this goes through, it will be the death knell of freedom of speach!

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  • Janey

    “It’s hard for me to be sympathetic to the entertainment industry and its frustration with online piracy”

    I agree. We continue to see movies smashing box office records every year. The entertainment industry is killing itself, and jobs aren’t being lost to piracy but to the high costs of doing business in California. Movie studios are moving to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and other locals where it’s cheaper and easier to produce films. And as the box office stats continue to show, piracy isn’t damaging box office receipts. They do like to use it as a convenient scapegoat, though. Movie did poorly? Blame piracy! New CD by Artist X did poor? Blame ‘illegal downloaders!’
    Sadly, the backers of this bill are mostly Democrats who have been handed large amounts of cash by the entertainment industry. This is reflected in the stats kept by, and it has never been any surprise that Hollywood = Democrat.
    Like them or hate them, but this would actually be a Tea Party principal – COICA = serious government intrusion, thus against the party principals. (all other party silliness aside, of course)

    Sad to see COICA ever make it out of a scratch notebook. ACTA is also pretty vile and unnecessary.

  • Aaron

    Why is this being done for copyright, and not for all of the other, more important, issues on the internet?

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  • Hephaestus

    It seems to me that with the talk of P2P DNS and several other solutions to this stupidity that the US governmnet is going to cause an evolution away from centralized DNS. In the end with encryption, VPNs, and distributed DNS outside the US control this is actually going to make it harder to monitor what people are doing online. I say let the record labels and MPAA have COICA it will only move the control of the DNS out of the US’s hands. I am sorry OpenDNS is going to end up a smear on the side of the tubes … but stuff happens.

  • Toby

    I agree. COICA is an awful thing.

  • keegan

    I have concerns about the effectiveness of DNS based filtering. I suppose it works on a captive audience such as the employees of a business, but the internet at large? DNS daemons can run without a problem on the average laptop these days. What’s to stop people from simply running their own DNS services and configuring the records statically. Or something even more creative like a BIND daemon with it’s config files and db files in something equivalent to a dropbox.

    Lastly, I think it’s sad that our government is so eager to cater to the every whim of large corporations or the rich in general. Tax breaks, legal breaks, expediting due process. It’s shocking what the wealthy can get done in the country, even without a building full of lobbyists.

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  • MDDave

    This is akin to using the police to set up a roadblock preventing the public from entering (or even window-shopping) at a store, or asking the phone company to disconnect a phone line.

    In one case, it’s a very local event, but the other could have international implications as well. Either way, the public wouldn’t stand for it.

    This is the first I’ve heard of it, thanks for bringing it to my attention, big brother in action. Orwell was just a little off in in his book, he needed to add another couple years to the title.

  • davmac

    Just typical democrats is all I am going to say… They talk about the 1st amendment all the time, while in the background they are trying to destroy it…

    I love OpenDNS and I hope it has a strong future ahead… but old corrupt senators like Patrick Leahy are just power hungry and selling out to special interests… there is someone in the background making money from this… why else would they try to force this illegal activity on us?

  • eddy

    oh boy, i can’t believe it. The USA, the land of freedom !
    Here, in France, politicians have found a way to control internet, the HADOPI laws . Don’t let them do the same thing to you !

  • InterNetInc

    Before the Internet, and after carving in stone, there was the Bulletin Board System (BBS) and Fidonet (not the cell). Govs and comm industry around the world tried to tax, create separate fees, controls, and transparency. Control of the Internet is no different. As with the maturing of BBS into the Internet, the Internet will no doubt morph in to something else, less controllable and with more freedom.

    Like BBS’s, the Internet too has it’s evil downsides. But, the advantages outweigh what govs can do and people will find newer and better means of communicating, sharing ideas, and whatevers, and govs will work their duffs off trying to control what we see, hear, and do – to no avail.

    Wikileaks is forcing govs to learn to play nice, play fair, and openly, else someone else will open it for them. The spotlight is on the politicians sandbox. The Internet will prevail. Industry will learn they cannot conform people, rather industry must learn to conform – and one day will.

    It just takes patience, support for those on the front lines fighting for freedom on the ‘net, and telling govs, politicians, and industry the Internet belongs to no government, no country, no business, no person.

    When you vote for your next politician, tell them what you expect, and tell the guy you didn’t vote for, why you didn’t and be sure to include your thoughts on Internet censorship and controls.

  • FennFam

    I have read all of the posts so far and can somewhat agree with them but at the same time I can also understand the otherside as well.
    This would stop all of the pirating which is really not a bad thing as many think it is.
    Please dont get me wrong because I like getting free music,movies and apps like the next person but I dont think my life will be over because I cant get these things anymore.
    I believe this is a good step in someday stopping internet child porn.
    It would not hurt us all to maybe go back to when things were a bit more simple.
    There is a lot of great things on the internet but at the same time there are a lot of bad things out there too. Sadly we by ourselves can’t seem to keep things lagit without the government sometimes and I think the internet is just that case.
    OpenDNS, barracuda and programs that you can use do help as long as the individuals place them on thier computers but what about all the other people out there? They are free to see and do whatever they want and that is when things can and do get bad.
    I am sure businesses will do just fine with the COICA. Change is hard and people hate change but change doesn’t mean disater.
    Anyhow, thanks for reading this and I hope I did not affend anyone with my opinion.

  • guamistippingover

    Congrats, lots of you voted for this. Next stop, Health de-form policy *rationing panels *aka death panels and then Radio censorship. Now maybe you understand what rights are being taken away that was predicted in 2008. I told my friends, kids wouldn’t pay any attention to the Government until they threaten the Internet neutrality issues and stealing music. Here we are… We ALL have skin in the Game, and it will be monitored and censored, FOR the Greater Good… Enjoy Comrades. :0)

  • mike


  • Steve

    COICA is a us bill meaning it has no effect on the rest of the world just us registered companies. The way around it for opendns would be to register another companies in uk that would run open DNS for rest of the world of course except us, COICA cannot censor abroad registered companies that do not operate in us. Also The new .p2p is a good solution which would take all control away from government or private companies giving full power to the users totally bypassing any control measures. And actually if COICA goes through and they try to filter websites for any country they would be infringing human rights. That should be looked into.

  • Ida Down

    I love your opening paragraph.

  • Angelos Karageorgiou

    Believe it or not I was present at a similar attempt that was made here in Greece by a Government agency in behalf of a major local IPTV provider. The provider was attempting to pass a regulation, not even a bill, for all ISPs and Telcos to block certain IPs that were providing pirated CPE keys for their TV broadcasts. The blocking list of course would be distributed by the provider, via phone of fax or some such cro magnon tech.

    Needless to say they were voiced down with a number of arguments most prominent and most easily digestible by marketing/sales drones was: “You never bothered to secure your CPEs and now that you are losing money you pass the cost of your security to the country at large. That is at best unethical, at worst you do not even understand the technical implications of this action. Not to mention that id the regulation is passed we get to pay people for your security and well being without any reimbursement”.

    So if the government wants anyone, OpenDNS included, to block sites, IPs, port ranges or blue coloured semaphores for that matter, they should make sure that the loss of income should be somehow subsidized. This language the Hill fat cats understand.

    Don’t get me started on the ethical aspect of this. Especially the OSU students should immediately march out and look for another institution that does not make a mockery of their education.

  • Jim

    Could this be a business opportunity for OpenDNS? If you move your DNS servers off-shore and ignore the blacklists you will create an additional value-add for your customers (and thwart the curmudgeons in congress and the arcane recording industry).

    If you wont, I think I will.

  • Carlos

    Im so angry to heard this, I love to surf online with freedom, and I cannot imagine how everybody will feels if this stupid and incontitutional idea is performed.

    WHAT WE ALL HAVE TO DO IS begin to express our indignation since now, by writing emails to the White House

    do not forget to use your freedom of speech.
    inform to all internet users you can reach, post it on facebook ect ect.

  • Author Unknown

    Registered companies = Government approved Companies AKA Political Allies Only

    As a Hostmaster/webmaster/designer for over 15 years I have been telling people this is coming. The original free thinking community has caught the propaganda arm of the Democratic party too many times (and they are not forgiving). They do not care if this is the beginning of the end of innovation, or this country, so long as they hold on to their power as long as they can. We are watching the acceleration of the decline and fall of the United States…. micromanagement style.

  • Lee

    And we call the Western world a civil and democratic society?

    Freedom of speech
    Freedom of liberty
    Freedom of choice

    It’s all an illusion!

    Welcome to the world of hypocrisy governed by the ‘New World Order’, a one world government where you have the freedom to do as you’re told or we’ll throw you in the hole!

    The world has been divided! Prepare to be well and truly conquered!

    UNITED we stand
    DIVIDED we fall

    The question is:

    Will you sit back and watch and remain a slave to society?


    Will you get off your arse and unite with your fellow brothers and sisters and do something about it?



    How will the recently-passed “Net Neutrality” be effected and vice versa? It appears the Fed is leaning toward NO blocking, or does this apply to companies and not gov?

  • Anonymous

    Every single person can help (and help themselves), by…

    * Adding an OpenNIS server to their nameservers (see

    * Running a bridge for the EFF’s tor network (see

    * Running an I2P darknet node (see

    * Being politically active

    * Voting with your wallet

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