A bill that would authorize the U.S. attorney general to shut down web sites accused of copyright infringement has met opposition from Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Wyden says the bill is too broad and vowed to prevent it from coming to a vote unless it is changed. The bill, called the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (S 3804) says that the attorney general, after making his case before a judge, can order internet service providers to block access to web site's domain name if that site is infringing copyrights. On Thursday the Judiciary Committee submitted it to the full Senate with a 19-0 vote.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the original sponsors, have emphasized the bill's effect on sellers of counterfeit goods, such as prescription drugs, as well as intellectual property. 

The bill says infringing activities must be central to the activity of the Internet site or sites accessed through a specific domain name. If a web site owner wants to contest the attorney general's case he or she can do so, but that person would run the risk of being arrested as some copyright infringement cases are criminal.

The difference between this legislation and current law is that previously, a site such as YouTube only needed to have procedures in place to remove infringing content, and the site would not be blocked in its entirety. For example, a movie studio could ask that YouTube take down a copyrighted video. But blocking access to YouTube as a whole would not happen because YouTube was not seen as directly responsible for the copyright violation.

Leahy's office contends that there are safeguards built into the bill to prevent big media companies such as Disney or Viacom from filing suits to shut down web sites that might have a case for fair use. For example, the only party that can ask the ISPs to block a site's domain name is the Department of Justice. If a site operator wants to contest the block, they can petition the courts to have it removed.

The bill was also amended from its original version to remove a blacklist of sites that the attorney general could say might be infringing but weren't necessarily proven to be so.

One reason the bill allows for blocking the domain name, rather than suits against operators and owners, is because many web sites are located outside the U.S. The ISPs or owners might therefore be out of reach of authorities.