Stop PROTECT IP 2011
Remember COICA, that nauseating piece of legislation proposed last year that sought to remake the Internet in the interest of protecting all those poor, mistreated copyright owners like George Lucas? Well it’s back, and if you thought it was bad the first time, you should probaby find a bucket before reading its new-and-improved hellspawn known as the PROTECT IP Act, which was introduced to Congress on Tuesday.
PROTECT IP isn’t just the most unsettling effort yet to establish pervasive internet censorship in the United States — it’s also the starting line for a potentially huge corporate power grab in the realm of copyright enforcement. As in yes, the U.S. government basically wants to say that legal bullying is okay, and that it’s a great idea to let the private sector deal out justice themselves.
Copyright trolls rejoice: Your era may finally be upon us.
Corporate Censorship For
You might think the name “PROTECT IP Act” gets its meaning from the word “protect.” As in, “I wish the government would protect me from abusive copyright owners.” But nope — It’s actually an acronym for “Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property,” and after you’ve read it, you’ll realize how fittingly absurd that name really is.
Like I said, the PROTECT IP Act is a landmark bill for internet censorship, taking the provisions first outlined in COICA and expanding upon them liberally. The issue at work here is that many “undesirable” sites dealing in infringing material are offshores and as such, out of the U.S. government’s reach. The solution is to force domain registrars, ad networks and payment companies like Mastercard, Visa and Paypal to stop doing business with these “infringing” sites, effectively paralyzing them and allowing interested parties to take legal action.
But there’s been one notable addition to this since the death of COICA: Search engines. Under PROTECT IP, search engines would be forced to make sites marked as “infringing” disappear from search results altogether. The EFF suggests that this could even be expanded to include social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, or virtually any such site where a URL link might appear.
What counts as an infringing site, you ask? The definition is more specific than it was in COICA, but still pretty nebulous and ripe for exploitation.
The first article defines these sites having “no substantial/significant use” other than the reproduction or distribution of copyrighted works. That sounds at least quasi-workable, but there’s also no guarantee that lawmakers won’t attempt to expand that definition further.
Consider the track record for this kind of legislation: We’ve been shown time and again that even when precautions are taken, the slightest vaguery can and will be seized upon by the private sector. And that’s why this next part is guaranteed to make all the trolls come out from under their bridges with big grins on their slimy faces.
Don’t Answer It … It’s The Copyright Mafia
Unlike COICA, the PROTECT IP Act allows for what’s known as “private rights of action,” which basically means that a copyright owner who feels someone’s been sipping their IP kool-aid too hard can take action themselves via a court order. This cuts off the site’s payments and ad revenue without having to wade through all that bothersome legal mumbo-jumbo:
“The Act similarly authorizes a rights holder who is the victim of the infringement to bring an action against the owner, registrant, or Internet site dedicated to infringement, whether domestic or foreign, and seek a court order against the domain name registrant, owner, or the domain name.”
Nice. That’s kind of like having to wait until Michael Corleone finishes smashing up your apartment to tell him he’s got the wrong house.
Even better: The bill is set up so that if your site is declared “infringing,” your site’s domain registrar, ad networks, and services like Paypal will want to cut you off. That’s because PROTECT IP promises them “protection” under the law if they voluntarily terminate service to your accounts, turning the entities that keep your site alive into agents of corporate whim. It’s an offer they can’t refuse.
Trolls Will Be Trolls
So even with the DMCA, the ACTA the NET Act and other legislation already on their side, the U.S. government is still open to the idea of putting more power in the hands of these rightsholders. Will it ever be enough? Probably not. After all, these are people who have, in many cases, ceased contributing to society altogether. Rather than continuing to innovate and think up new ideas, they squeeze their old ones for all they’re worth at the expense of those who unwittingly wander into their legal field of view.
Just like the mythological variety, trolls will be trolls, ever seeking new ways to exploit the decrepit bridges they sit on.