The PROTECT IP Act: Why Can't They Get Copyright Right?
The history of the copyright issue on the Internet basically boils down to the music and movie industries trying to permanently shut down any website that contributes to copyright infringement, while the courts have repeatedly held them in check saying that doing so would be a violation of the First Amendment and, in effect, an institutional form of censorship.
And here we go again...
The PROTECT-IP Act (also known as the E-PARASITES Act) is the latest bill that lobbyists for the music and movie industries are pushing through Congress. The bill seeks to protect the interests of copyright holders by forcing ISPs to block access to any site deemed by those industries to be "contributing towards infringement". No one quite knows what this means, and it can be interpreted quite broadly. The icing on the cake... such sites can be shut down with no adversarial hearing. That's right; if this bill passes, websites can now be shut down without any involvement or ruling from the courts.
The problems are the usual suspects. First, the vague language used to define "contributing towards copyright infringement" is overly broad and can be applied to almost any website. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and YouTube could all theoretically be shut down based on this language if, even once, someone posts anything deemed by the industries to be "contributory".
Second, the prescribed solution of forcing ISPs to prohibit access to such websites preemptively without going through the courts amounts to censorship without due process, and has to make any American who supports free speech and free press recoil. Could you imagine if the same standard was held to newspapers? Where the New York Times could be shut down - the entire newspaper SHUT DOWN(!!!) - because Hollywood claimed it once - once(!!!) - violated copyright with a specific movie review? And where it would be shut down without a court reviewing the case?
Mike Masnick from Techdirt offers a scathing critique of the bill where he points out...
And while defenders of this bill will insist it's only designed to target truly infringing sites, let's just recall a small list of sites and technologies the industry has insisted were all about infringement in the past: the player piano, the radio, the television, the photocopier, the phonograph, cable tv, the vcr, the mp3 player, the DVR, online video hosting sites like YouTube and more.
Here's the thing. The problem of online copyright infringment is real and many people are at least somewhat sympathetic. However, by the music and movie industries reacting, over and over again, with such ridiculous Draconian solutions, they lose any credibility - and that filters in to the public's perception of the problem as well. If, for once, these industries would stop trying to create an Internet blacklist and censor half the Web, and instead formulate something - anything - even slightly reasonable, people might not be so quick to brush them off as out-of-touch lunatics.
The PROTECT-IP Act is a travesty.