DMCA, DRM & Piracy

I’ve written two articles on the Protect IP Act of 2011, introduced last week by Sen. Leahy (D-Vt.).

For CNET, I look at some of the key differences, better and worse, between Protect IP and its predecessor last year, known as COICA.

On Forbes this morning, I have a long meditation on what Protect IP says about the current state of the Internet content wars.  Copyright, patent, and trademark are under siege from digital technology, and for now at least are clearly losing the arms race.

The new bill isn’t exactly the nuclear option in the fight between the media industries and everyone else, but it does signal increased desperation. Continue reading →

Last November, I penned an essay on these pages about the COICA legislation that had recently been approved unanimously by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. While I praised Congress’s efforts to tackle the problem of “rogue websites” — sites dedicated to trafficking in counterfeit goods and/or distributing copyright infringing content — I warned that the bill lacked crucial safeguards to protect free speech and due process, as several dozen law professors had also cautioned. Thus, I suggested several changes to the legislation that would have limited its scope to truly bad actors while reducing the probability of burdening protected expression through “false positives.” Thanks in part to the efforts of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), COICA never made it a floor vote last session.

Today, three U.S. Senators introduced a similar bill, entitled the PROTECT IP Act (bill text), which, like COICA, establishes new mechanisms for combating Internet sites that are “dedicated to infringing activities.” I’m glad to see that lawmakers adopted several of my suggestions, making the PROTECT IP Act a major improvement over its predecessor. While the new bill still contains some potentially serious problems, on net, it represents a more balanced approach to fighting online copyright and trademark infringement while recognizing fundamental civil liberties.

Continue reading →

POLITICO reports that a bill aimed at combating so-called “rogue websites” will soon be introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sen. Patrick Leahy. The legislation, entitled the PROTECT IP Act, will substantially resemble COICA (PDF), a bill that was reported unanimously out of the Senate Judiciary Committee late last year but did not reach a floor vote. As more details about the new bill emerge, we’ll likely have much more to say about it here on TLF.

I discussed my concerns about and suggested changes to the COICA legislation here last November; the PROTECT IP Act reportedly contains several new provisions aimed at mitigating concerns about the statute’s breadth and procedural protections. However, as Mike Masnick points out on Techdirt, the new bill — unlike COICA — contains a private right of action, although that right may not permit rights holders to disable infringing domain names. Also unlike COICA, the PROTECT IP Act would apparently require search engines to cease linking to domain names that a court has deemed to be “dedicated to infringing activities.”

For a more in-depth look at this contentious and complex issue, check out the panel discussion that the Competitive Enterprise Institute and TechFreedom hosted last month. Our April 7 event explored the need for, and concerns about, legislative proposals to combat websites that facilitate and engage in unlawful counterfeiting and copyright infringement. The event was moderated by Juliana Gruenwald of National Journal. The panelists included me, Danny McPherson of VeriSign, Tom Sydnor of the Association for Competitive Technology, Dan Castro of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, David Sohn of the Center for Democracy & Technology, and Larry Downes of TechFreedom.

CEI-TechFreedom Event: What Should Lawmakers Do About Rogue Websites? from CEI Video on Vimeo.

A federal judge in Illinois has refused to allow a plaintiff to match IP addresses to individual names in a piracy case, indicating that use of IP addresses without any other evidence is too unreliable in identifying actual perpetrators, and as such, violates the rights of those caught in what he termed a “fishing expedition.”

In his decision, Judge Harold Baker pointed to one of several recent cases where paramilitary-type police raids on the residences of persons suspected of downloading child pornography that turned up nothing. What had happened was that real culprit had used that household’s unsecured wireless Internet connection.

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User-driven websites — also known as online intermediaries — frequently come under fire for disabling user content due to bogus or illegitimate takedown notices. Facebook is at the center of the latest controversy involving a bogus takedown notice. On Thursday morning, the social networking site disabled Ars Technica’s page after receiving a DMCA takedown notice alleging the page contained copyright infringing material. While details about the claim remain unclear, given that Facebook restored Ars’s page yesterday evening, it’s a safe bet that the takedown notice was without merit.

Understandably, Ars Technica wasn’t exactly pleased that its Facebook page — one of its top sources of incoming traffic — was shut down for seemingly no good reason. Ars was particularly disappointed by how Facebook handled the situation. In an article posted yesterday (and updated throughout the day), Ars co-founder Ken Fisher and senior editor Jacqui Cheng chronicled their struggle in getting Facebook to simply discuss the situation with them and allow Ars to respond to the takedown notice.

Facebook took hours to respond to Ars’s initial inquiry, and didn’t provide a copy of takedown notice until the following day. Several other major tech websites, including ReadWriteWeb and TheNextWeb, also covered the issue, noting that Ars Technica is the latest in a series of websites to have suffered from their Facebook page being wrongly disabled. In a follow-up article posted today, Ars elaborated on what happened and offered some tips to Facebook on how it could have better handled the situation.

It’s totally fair to criticize how Facebook deals with content takedown requests. Ars is right that the company could certainly do a much better job of handling the process, and Facebook will hopefully re-evaluate its procedures in light of this widely publicized snafu. In calling out Facebook’s flawed approach to dealing with takedown requests, however, Ars Technica doesn’t do justice to the larger, more fundamental problem of bogus takedown notices.

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Yesterday the FBI effectively [shut down](http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/156429-fbi-shuts-down-online-poker-sites) three of the largest gambling sites online and indicted their executives. From a tech policy perspective, these events highlight how central intermediary control is to the regulation of the internet.

Department of Justice lawyers were able to take down the sites using the same tools we’ve [seen DHS use](http://techland.time.com/2011/02/17/operation-protect-our-children-accidentally-shutters-84000-sites/) against alleged pirate and child porn sites: they seize the domain names. Because the sites are hosted overseas (where online gambling is legal), the feds can’t physically shut down the servers, so they do the next best thing. They get a seizure warrant for the domain names that point to the servers and [force the domain name registrars](http://pokerati.com/2011/04/15/poker-panic-11-update-on-domain-name-seizures/) to point them instead to a government IP address, such as [50.17.223.71](http://50.17.223.71). The most popular TLDs, including .com, .net, .org, and .info, have registrars that are American companies within U.S. jurisdiction.

Another intermediary point of control for the federal government are payment processors. The indictments revealed yesterday relate to violations of the [Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act](http://www.firstamendment.com/site-articles/UIEGA/), which makes it illegal for banks and processors like Visa, MasterCard and PayPal to let consenting adults use their money to gamble online. According to the DOJ, in order to let them bet, the poker sites “arranged for the money received from U.S. gamblers to be disguised as payments to hundreds of non-existent online merchants purporting to sell merchandise such as jewelry and golf balls.” ([PDF](http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2011/04/scheinbergetalindictmentpr.pdf))

Now, imagine if there were no intermediaries.

[In my TIME.com Techland column today, I write about Bitcoin](http://techland.time.com/2011/04/16/online-cash-bitcoin-could-challenge-governments/), a completely decentralized and anonymous virtual currency that I think will be revolutionary.

>Because Bitcoin is an open-source project, and because the database exists only in the distributed peer-to-peer network created by its users, there is no Bitcoin company to raid, subpoena or shut down. Even if the Bitcoin.org site were taken offline and the Sourceforge project removed, the currency would be unaffected. Like BitTorrent, taking down any of the individual computers that make up the peer-to-peer system would have little effect on the rest of the network. And because the currency is truly anonymous, there are no identities to trace.

And if a P2P currency can make it so that there is no fiscal intermediary to regulate, how about a distributed DNS system so that there are no registrars to coerce? This is something Peter Sunde of Pirate Bay fame [has been working on](http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-12/02/peter-sunde-p2p-dns). These ideas may sound radical and far-fetched, but if we truly want to see an online regime of “[denationalized liberalism](http://techliberation.com/2010/11/28/mueller%E2%80%99s-networks-and-states-classical-liberalism-for-the-information-age/),” as Milton Mueller puts it, then getting rid of the intermediaries in the net’s infrastructure might be the best path forward.

Again, check out [my piece in TIME](http://techland.time.com/2011/04/16/online-cash-bitcoin-could-challenge-governments/) for a thorough explanation of Bitcoin and its implications. I plan to be writing about it a lot more and devote some of my research time to it.

In the ongoing copyright debates, areas of common ground are seemingly few and far between. It’s easy to forget that not all approaches to combating copyright infringement are mired in controversy. One belief that unites many stakeholders across the spectrum is that more efforts are needed to educate Internet users about copyright. The Internet has spawned legions of amateur content creators, but not all of the content that’s being created is original. Indeed, a great deal of online copyright infringement owes to widespread ignorance of copyright law and its penalties.

For its part, Google yesterday unveiled “Copyright School” for YouTube users. As Justin Green explains on the official YouTube blog, users whose accounts have been suspended for allegedly uploading infringing content will be required to watch this video and then correctly answer questions about it before their account will be reinstated:

Of course, boiling down the basics of copyright into a four and a half minute video is not an easy task, to put it mildly. (The authoritative treatment of copyright law, Nimmer on Copyright, fills an 11-volume treatise.) Copyright geeks and fans of “remix culture” will appreciate that Google’s video touches on fair use and includes links to in-depth resources for users to learn more about copyright. It will be interesting to see how Google’s effort influences the behavior of YouTube users and the incidence of repeat infringement.

Continue reading →

Early in President Obama’s term it became clear that efforts to close the revolving door between industry and government weren’t serious or the very least weren’t working.  For a quick refresher on this, check out this ABC news story from August of 2009, which shows how Mr. Obama exempted several officials from rules he claimed would “close the revolving door that lets lobbyists come into government freely” and use their power and position “to promote their own interests over the interests of the American people whom they serve.”

The latest example of this rapidly turning revolving door is covered expertly by Nate Anderson at Ars Technica:

Last week, Washington, DC federal judge Beryl Howell ruled on three mass file-sharing lawsuits. Judges inTexasWest Virginia, and Illinois had all ruled recently that such lawsuits were defective in various ways, but Howell gave her cases the green light; attorneys could use the federal courts to sue thousands of people at once and then issue mass subpoenas to Internet providers. Yes, issues of “joinder” and “jurisdiction” would no doubt arise later, but the initial mass unmasking of alleged file-swappers was legitimate.

Howell isn’t the only judge to believe this, but her important ruling is especially interesting because of Howell’s previous work: lobbying for the recording industry during the time period when the RIAA was engaged in its own campaign of mass lawsuits against individuals.

The bolding above is my own and is meant to underscore an overarching problem in government today of which Judge Howell is just one example. In a government that is expected to regulate nearly every commercial activity imaginable, it should be no surprise that a prime recruiting ground for experts on those subjects are the very industries being regulated.

Today, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York rejected a proposed class action settlement agreement between Google, the Authors Guild, and a coalition of publishers. Had it been approved, the settlement would have enabled Google to scan and sell millions of books, including out of print books, without getting explicit permission from the copyright owner. (Back in 2009, I submitted an amicus brief to the court regarding the privacy implications of the settlement agreement, although I didn’t take a position on its overall fairness.)

While the court recognized in its ruling (PDF) that the proposed settlement would “benefit many” by creating a “universal digital library,” it ultimately concluded that the settlement was not “fair, adequate, and reasonable.” The court further concluded that addressing the troubling absence of a market in orphan works is a “matter for Congress,” rather than the courts.

Both chambers of Congress are currently working hard to tackle patent reform and rogue websites. Whatever one thinks about the Google Books settlement, Judge Chin’s ruling today should serve as a wake-up call that orphan works legislation should also be a top priority for lawmakers.

Today, millions of expressive works cannot be enjoyed by the general public because their copyright owners cannot be found, as we’ve frequently pointed out on these pages (1, 2, 3, 4). This amounts to a massive black hole in copyright, severely undermining the public interest. Unfortunately, past efforts in Congress to meaningfully address this dilemma have failed.

In 2006, the U.S. Copyright Office recommended that Congress amend the Copyright Act by adding an exception for the use and reproduction of orphan works contingent on a “reasonably diligent search” for the copyright owner. The proposal also would have required that users of orphan works pay “reasonable compensation” to copyright owners if they emerge.

A similar solution to the orphan works dilemma was put forward by Jerry Brito and Bridget Dooling. They suggested in a 2006 law review article that Congress establish a new affirmative defense in copyright law that would permit a work to be reproduced without authorization if no rightsholder can be found following a reasonable, good-faith search.

Video is now available for all of the excellent programming at this year’s State of The Net 2011 conference. (Programming will also be available over time on C-SPAN’s video library.) The Conference, organized by the Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus, featured Members of Congress, leading academics, Administration, agency, and Congressional staff and other provocateurs. Topics this year ranged from social networking, Wikileaks, COICA, copyright, privacy, security, broadband policy and, of course, the end-of-the-year vote by the FCC to approve new rules for network management by broadband providers, aka net neutrality. Continue reading →