US Senate Internet Copyright Legislation Deja Vu

Last year there was COICA, this year there is PROTECT IP, legislation in the US Senate wanting to control aspects of the internet that they see violating copyright. Both acts were introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy and blocked by Sen. Ron Wyden. On both occasions there were big groups fighting over pros and cons of implementation.

Sen. Wyden (D-Ore.) was tagged ‘Saver of the Internet’ for blocking COICA with its allowance of seizure of websites before a violation is proved in court. This latest attempt to legislate the web, PROTECT IP, was also blocked by Wyden.


As ArsTechnica notes: “The PROTECT IP Act makes a few major changes to last year’s COICA legislation. First, it does provide a more limited definition of sites “dedicated to infringing activities.” The previous definition was criticized as being unworkably vague, and it could have put many legitimate sites at risk.

But what the PROTECT IP Act gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. While the definition of targeted sites is tighter, the remedies against such sites get broader. COICA would have forced credit card companies like MasterCard and Visa to stop doing business with targeted sites, and it would have prevented ad networks from working with such sites. It also suggested a system of DNS blocking to make site nominally more difficult to access.

The PROTECT IP Act adds one more entity to this list: search engines. Last week, when the Department of Homeland Security leaned on Mozilla to remove a Firefox add-on making it simple to bypass domain name seizures, we wondered at the request. After all, the add-on only made it easier to do a simple Google search, and we wondered “what the next logical step in this progression will be: requiring search engines to stop returning results for seized domain names?”

Turns out that’s exactly what’s being contemplated. According to the detailed summary of the PROTECT IP Act, this addition “responds to concerns raised that search engines are part of the ecosystem that directs Internet user traffic and therefore should be part of the solution.”

Larry Downes, contributor to CNET and Forbes, points out that this new legislation is aimed at mostly foreign websites, as the there are plenty of existing laws that can be used against domestically-registered sites.

But for “for sites that operate entirely outside the U.S., “notice and takedown” and private lawsuits are legally difficult to pursue, and are largely ineffective. But the need to forcibly “enlist” the support of registries, search engines, advertising networks and financial transaction processors underscores both the difficulty and danger of expanding existing legal tools to deal with non-domestically registered domains,” Downes notes in his CNET article.

Once search engines can regularly be forced to remove content (there have been some specific cases in the US and more in results provided in other countries) from their indexes through the court system the fine line of censorship gets closer to legal or legislative control.

There is not enough attention being given to this legislative push over the past few years and its possible impact on the web. True, artists and right holders deserve to have their intellectual property protected, but not with laws that can be easily applied beyond their protection.

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