US law threatens sharing music

Legislation going through congress at the moment allows blocking of any site used to distribute music out of copyright, even YouTube.

18.11.11

Words by: Charlie Jones

Legislation which would place the onus for policing intellectual property infringement on the site is currently working through the Senate in Washington. If passed, it would mean that sites, even of the size of YouTube, could be blocked without trial or warning. Bad news for people who like watching fan videos, good news for people who don’t really understand the internet.

Google policy counsel Katherine Oyama said, “The prospect of [internet service providers] and search engines ‘disappearing’ entire sites when they have violated no U.S. law, but only ‘facilitated’ unlawful acts of third parties, raises serious concerns.”

A New York Times op-ed, while slightly hysterical, is quite interesting:

Congress, under pressure to take action against the theft of intellectual property, is considering misguided legislation that would strengthen China’s Great Firewall and even bring major features of it to America.

The legislation — the Protect IP Act, which has been introduced in the Senate, and a House version known as the Stop Online Piracy Act — have an impressive array of well-financed backers, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the Motion Picture Association of America, the American Federation of Musicians, the Directors Guild of America, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Screen Actors Guild. The bills aim not to censor political or religious speech as China does, but to protect American intellectual property. Alarm at the infringement of creative works through the Internet is justifiable. The solutions offered by the legislation, however, threaten to inflict collateral damage on democratic discourse and dissent both at home and around the world.

The bills would empower the attorney general to create a blacklist of sites to be blocked by Internet service providers, search engines, payment providers and advertising networks, all without a court hearing or a trial. The House version goes further, allowing private companies to sue service providers for even briefly and unknowingly hosting content that infringes on copyright — a sharp change from current law, which protects the service providers from civil liability if they remove the problematic content immediately upon notification. The intention is not the same as China’s Great Firewall, a nationwide system of Web censorship, but the practical effect could be similar.

The House bill would also emulate China’s system of corporate “self-discipline,” making companies liable for users’ actions. The burden would be on the Web site operator to prove that the site was not being used for copyright infringement. The effect on user-generated sites like YouTube would be chilling.