Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Internet Piracy? Or Internet Censorship?

The music industry wants to turn your kids into pirates.  And not in the cute, dress-up way.  Take the case of Lenz vs United Music, in which the EFF sued United Music for sending a take-down notice to a woman who posted a short clip of her baby dancing to a Prince song that was playing in the background.  United was acting under the DMCA, a law passed in 2000 that allows copyright holders to notify a website that they must immediately remove infringing content.  In this case the woman was clearly within her rights of fair use of the copyrighted material, but as copyright holder, United would rather that this part of copyright law didn't exist.  When laws give copyright holders free reign over the system, the way the DMCA does, then they will use it to their advantage, eroding any rights that might be accorded to the public.

This situation promises to get even worse if SOPA passes.

SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, tries to extend online copyright protections to create a blacklist of web sites that can be censored.  As the EFF summarizes, there are three major parts to this bill:
  • Under section 102, the Attorney General can seek a court order that would force search engines, DNS providers, servers, payment processors, and advertisers to stop doing business with allegedly infringing websites.  
  • Under Section 103 (cleverly entitled the “market based” approach), IP rightsholders can take action by themselves, by sending notices directly to payment processors—like Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal—demanding that they cut off all payments to the website. 
  • Section 104 of SOPA also allows payment processors to cut websites off voluntarily—even if they haven’t received a notice. Visa and Mastercard cannot be held accountable if they cease processing payments to any site, as long as they have a “reasonable belief” that the website is engaged in copyright violations of any kind.
This should concern you deeply.  Do you want copyright holders to be able to censor the Internet, based only on their word that the infringement exists, without due process?

For more reading on this issue, follow my SOPA stack on Delicious.  A good starting point is an article by the Stanford Law Review.  The EFF has a list of things you can do.  Clay Johnson has an interesting discussion on how to get Congress to pay attention.