The Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to pass the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), moving the legislation one step closer to reality. The law would give the U.S. Attorney General's office the right to shut down websites that it deems are participating in piracy and "infringing activities" without due process or proof that a copyright "crime" has been committed.

The law would allow the government to blacklist a website that had "no demonstrable, commercially significant purpose or use other than" sharing unauthorized copyrighted material. Sites would be blacklisted from the Domain Name System, credit card companies would be forbidden to process payments, and advertisers would be banned from placing ads on the site.

Techdirt has the list of the Senators involved in today's vote, and notes that, "What's really amazing is that many of the same Senators have been speaking out against Internet censorship in other countries, yet they happily vote to approve it here because it's seen as a way to make many of their largest campaign contributors happy."

The proposed legislation is supported by groups like the RIAA, MPAA, and Screen Actors Guild. But many free speech advocates see the move as a violation of the First Amendment and dangerous first step down the road to censorship. The EFF responded to this morning's vote saying that it is "deeply disappointed to report that the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the COICA Internet censorship bill this morning, despite bipartisan opposition, and countless experts pointing out how it would be ineffective, unconstitutional, bad for innovation and the tech economy, and would break the Internet."

With the recent election and the shake-up in the composition of the Senate, it may be unlikely that the legislation moves forward. But the unanimity with which the Judiciary Committee approved it today is an eery sign nonetheless.

Image credits: Flickr