21 September 2010

Intellectual Monopolies, the Open Net and ACTA

Well, it was bound to come one day, but it's still shocking:

A group of senators want to hand the U.S. Department of Justice the power to shut down Web sites dedicated to the illegal sharing online of film, music, software, and other intellectual property.

"The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act will give the Department of Justice an expedited process for cracking down on these rogue Web sites regardless of whether the Web site's owner is located inside or outside of the United States," according to a statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and committee member Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah).

Under the proposed legislation, the Justice Department would file a civil action against accused pirate domain names. If the domain name resides in the U.S., the attorney general could then request that the court issue an order finding that the domain name in question is dedicated to infringing activities. The Justice Department would have the authority to serve the accused site's U.S.-based registrar with an order to shut down the site.

According to a staffer from Leahy's office, if the site resides outside the United States, the bill would authorize "the attorney general to serve the court order on other specified third parties, such as Internet service providers, payment processors, and online ad network providers."

So let's unpick that a little.

Once more, rather than fix their broken business models, the media and software industries want special "protection", with access to the most important medium to be turned off simply because it suits them. This places the maintenance of government-supported monopolies in a couple of sectors above things like the rights of hundreds of millions of users.

For note that this is effectively censorship by fiat: the Justice Department can apparently simply decide which sites are hosting infringing material, and have them shut down. Due process doesn't seem to enter into it, and if passed you can be sure this legislation will be used widely and abusively.

But there's worse: the US wants to arrogate these powers to itself even if the Web sites are outside its territory. Since much of the Internet's infrastructure is run from the US, that's a real threat. It's also the strongest argument so far why we need to decentralise the Internet further, and remove it from the influence of any one country - including the US.

There's another important aspect, too. One of the constant refrains during the ACTA negotiations is that the latter won't force the US, say, to introduce new laws. It looks like that will be true - because the US is introducing them anyway. But make no mistake, this kind of censorship lies at the hart of ACTA.

The choice is stark: intellectual monopolies or an open Internet - you can't have both....

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Anonymous said...

would a good dub for this be #KillBill ?
For what should be obvious reasons (Hollywood influence, and along the same lines as the midsummer "Internet kill switch" debacle) I feel it might be appropriate...

I wonder if IANA or ICANN as a whole, would fall under this bill?

Glyn Moody said...

@phbradly: yes, poetic justice, perhaps.

I think all aspects of the Net's infrastructure would be affected - which is why we need to build in some redundancy. The appalling job that ICANN has done since its formation doesn't help...

FleaStiff said...

Watch one of the first ISPs to be contacted by the US DOJ about persistent copyright infringement be the provider of WikiLeaks.

Glyn Moody said...

@FleaStiff: yup.