Trouble is brewing, dear readers. Our rights and freedoms are under increasingly under attack from corporate entities with enough money to control those in power. We may have won a minor victory against SOPA, but that’s the least of our worries. We can’t keep up the fight forever, and I predict we’re heading to a dark, dark place. Let’s look at the evidence.
Brought into law in the US right back in 1998 and now a prominent part of any website with user-created content, the Digital Millenium Copyright Act created a legal framework for rights-holders to send “takedown notices” to services found to be serving infringing content, or links to infringing content. Like all of these measures it is widely criticised as having too much power and leaves itself open for abuse.
A study from Google indicated that 57% of all the claims it received were abuse by targeting a competing business, while 37% were simply not valid copyright claims. Dealing with these claims costs businesses working time and money, of course – probably more so than the infringing copyright would have cost the claimant anyway. On more than one occasion I’ve had to deal with DMCA complaints directed at MakeUseOf, some utterly unjustified and some simply because a user pasted something they took from another site into a comment here.
It’s also led to security vulnerabilities being left unpublished because of fears that any crypto-analytic research may violate the DMCA, which is just downright dangerous. Want to know more? Read our previous article explaining the DMCA in more detail.
Having hastily pushed through the DMCA, the RIAA still weren’t satisfied though. Specifically, they could never quite accept the idea of safe harbour - whereby ISPs won’t be held responsible for content their users upload. Now they want ISPs to do their dirty work for them as well.
“You cannot monitor all the infringements on the Internet. It’s simply not possible. We don’t have the ability to search all the places infringing content appears, such as cyberlockers like [file-hosting firm] RapidShare.” (RIAA President Cary Sherman)
Any further legislation will be to address that, turning the ISPs to police and removing any safe harbour loopholes.
I’m sure you’ve all heard quite enough of SOPA, I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice to say, it would have given rights holders broad reaching capabilities to shut down entire sites at the DNS level if any piece of infringing material was found – so the internets took action, and the bill was put on hold. On hold, I emphasise – that doesn’t mean it’s gone away, just that they’ll bring it back (I suggest they rename it POOPA) when you’re off looking at lolcats, and the rest of the nation is being told about an impending attack by insurgents with a weapons of mass
distraction destruction. Make no mistake, the SOPA successor is being drafted as you read this.
You thought SOPA was bad? ACTA – The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement – bypasses sovereign laws in countries signed up – thats America, Japan, Austraila, Canada, and more recently, the whole of Europe too. ACTA doesn’t just cover copyright infringement, but trademarks too – generic medicines, counterfeit goods, seed patents – that sort of thing. The Electronic Frontier Foundation speculates some of the possible ramifications of the agreement:
- A 3-strikes law, similar to the one currently used in France
- Mandatory deep packet-level filtering by ISPs
- ISPs to remove infringing material on their servers (goes against the safe harbour rule)
- Criminal charges for users crossing borders with a single copyright song on their PC
- Stopping access to generic versions of drugs and medicines (in favour of expensive, branded ones)
As I write this article, the full text of the agreement was only made available this morning – though you’ll need to understand legalese – as well as a document that tries to ease our minds as to some of the myths surrounding ACTA. I expect over the coming weeks for a more fuller and accurate picture of the exact details of ACTA to emerge, but I’m sure it’ll be quite scary stuff.
That’s not the whole story though. Here are a few more bills over the years; and though some never made it, some might still – have you ever heard of them?
- Copyright Extension Act – which added yet another 20 years onto the copyright term to the existing 50 years after the death of the holder.
- Digital Transition Content Security Act of 2005 – never made it through, but would have required all analog recording equipment to have a form of secret copy protection in it, as well as only allowing a 90-minute window for watching time shifted content.
- The PIRATE act, 2004 was eventually rejected, but would have opened the door for civil lawsuits (as opposed to criminal ones) against copyright infringers, lowering the burden of proof for prosecutors. It later became the Intellectual Property Enforcement Act of 2007, but also failed to pass.
- The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act (PCIPA) is still in deliberation, and along with new data retention laws will all but eradicate any concept of privacy. It would give agencies unparalleled access to information from ISPs on suspicion of any crime and without a warrant. This is all justified under the guise of searching for child pornography, so you’d have to be a real a**hole to oppose that!
I can’t possibly claim to understand all the ins and outs of these various laws and acts – no sane normal citizen possibly can – and that’s kind of the point. I’d love to sit here and say you need to continue fighting against these, but the nihilistic part of me says it’s absolutely futile. The industries are so powerful already – they effectively own our politicians and senators through the legalised corruption we call lobbying. These new laws will continue to be introduced, and slowly but surely we will be worn down into accepting them without protest. What’s your next move going to be, internet?
You know what you could do? You could stop buying records, movies, DVDs, or going to the cinema. Hit them where it really hurts, and let them know that this continued attack on our freedoms will not be tolerated.
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