Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Piracy Bill Walks The Plank

So that's what a digital revolt looks like. A million-and-a-half emails and almost 90,000 phone calls to US Congress. Public complaints from Google and Facebook. Even a few thousand old-fashioned letters to the US House of Representatives.
This internet ire, marshalled under the banner of American Censorship Day on 16 November, came in opposition to the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), legislation aimed at tackling the online trade in copyrighted movies and music.
Claims that the act, if passed, will "break the internet" helped persuade several big companies, including a trade group which represents Apple and Microsoft, to withdraw their support. Then, last week, SOP& backers in the House said they were open to changing the bill. Internet Activists 1, Big Media 0. But elsewhere the media barons appear to be winning. Over the past few years, several countries have debated or enacted laws that in the name of tackling piracy, have handed more power to large companies.
In the process, say activists. the movie and music industries have gained the ability to censor websites. The recent revolt was louder because SOPA is one of the more radical new proposals. It would give copyright holders the legal right to have sites which they deem to be peddling stolen content shut down a controversial power the European Court of justice has just ruled against Concern here is less about blatant piracy, which gets limited sympathy from activists, and more about sites on which copyrighted content is used in creativeways.
 YouTube, for example, is packed with satirical remixes of songs and films. "If SOPA were enacted, just one such mash-up could bring down an entire site," notes Eric Goldman, a technology lawyer at Santa Clara University in California. '"Talk about collateral damage," he says," The bill also gives copyright holders the right to force search engines to expunge infringing sites f rom search results." Google and others know that it is often impossible to determine whether a site is engaging in piracyor creative reuse or some combination of the two. That'sone reason why the search engine teamed up with Facebook and other sites to run a full-page advert opposing the bill in The New York Times.
Other moves by copyright advocates have been less crude and more successful. This July, five big US internet service providers committed to repeatedly caution - and then potentially disconnect - subscribers who share copyrighted material. The measure had limited opposition, but Goldman and others warn that it is not sufficiently overseen.
That's a fear shared across the Atlantic, where British activists have warned that any proposals to speed up processing of industry requests will erode courts' ability to assess claims of copyright breaches, In Ireland, judges have already been sidelined. After a legal battle in 2009 with a recording industry group, eircom, the country's largest ISP said it would no longer contest blocking requests from the group. None have yet been submitted. There is a lot of copyright theft online, and content creators have a right to demand protection. Yet the reusers of content, from music remixers to bloggers, are also creators. Striking a balance between the two will prove important if politicians want to stop the angry emails.


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