So if you know anything about my background, you know that I’m a big proponent of Non-Profit efforts to assist artists with legal endeavors. When I had the resources, I volunteered with the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in Boston, MA (http://www.vlama.org ) – and have been inspired to eventually try an open a Western Mass branch of the project. (You know, when I have the experience and capital to do so.)
So it should come as no big surprise that one of the largest resources that helps me keep my ear to the ground with Intellectual Property concerns is a stellar non-profit that makes it their business to know what is happening to IP on a national scale: the Electronic Frontier Foundation Their work is important to me for a number of reasons, but the kicker is rooted in one of my fundamental beliefs about IP in the United States:
Current laws regarding intellectual property are typically far behind the current applications or innovations. However, in order to protect a flagging business model, large organizations attempt to try and apply out-dated laws against new technical or social innovations that have the ability to reinvent the marketplace. Not only that, but instead of supporting new innovations, the same organizations have the money and lobbyists required to make both the technology or the new applications illegal under the old laws.
This is why reform is critical to any pursuit of Intellectual Property, especially the kind of reform that takes into account cutting-edge applications or projected applications, and encouraging their growth. (The history and effect of the E-Sign act is an incredible step for progress in this area.) But this is also why keeping your ear to the ground about what the large organizations are doing with private companies that support the infrastructure of technology (ISPs, etc.) or what they are attempting to pass through congress is incredibly important.
So with all of that said – let me introduce to you one of my most trusted sources of information on this front. Here’s a link to their “About” section, because they say it so well: About EFF
Basically, they are as close to my dream job as one could get outside of helping individual artists – fighting to keep innovation alive and personal freedom’s secure. Which is why whenever I receive an email alert from them, I pay attention. Here’s a briefing of the alert regarding a bill which (fortunately) was just shelved in the senate – “The Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” or COICA. There’s a ton of information on the bill right now, so bare with me as I catch you up. The best summary I’ve been able to find is through the Memo that EFF posted on their COICA site:
EFF’s page on the subject: http://www.eff.org/coica
The “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA) is an Internet censorship bill which is rapidly making its way through the Senate. Although it is ostensibly focused on copyright infringement, an enormous amount of noninfringing content, including political and other speech, could disappear off the Web if it passes.
The main mechanism of the bill is to interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which translates names like “www.eff.org” or “www.nytimes.com” into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. The bill creates a blacklist of censored domains; the Attorney General can ask a court to place any website on the blacklist if infringement is “central” to the purpose of the site.
If this bill passes, the list of targets could conceivably include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire and Rapidshare; MP3 blogs and mashup/remix music sites like SoundCloud, MashupTown and Hype Machine ; and sites that discuss and make the controversial political and intellectual case for piracy, like pirate-party.us, p2pnet, InfoAnarchy, Slyck and ZeroPaid . Indeed, had this bill been passed five or ten years ago, YouTube might not exist today. In other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous. (Why would all these sites be targets?)
There are already laws and procedures in place for taking down sites that violate the law. This act would allow the Attorney General to censor sites even when no court has found they have infringed copyright or any other law.
Memo via EFF from the Center for Democracy and Technology: Link
Copyright infringement is a serious problem, and CDT harbors no sympathy for websites whose primary purpose is to enable widespread violation of copyright and other intellectual property rights. But methods embraced by S. 3804, the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act,” would mark a sea change in U.S. policy towards the Internet. In particular, U.S. government action to seize domain names and to direct Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block government-blacklisted sites would set dangerous precedents with serious consequences for free expression, global Internet freedom, and the Internetʼs open and global architecture. If enacted, the bill would be a significant step towards the balkanization of the Internet. These consequences are much too significant to address in a rushed fashion in the waning hours of the 111th Congress.
S. 3804 raises major problems in the following areas:
1. Free Speech (Due Process and Prohibitions against Prior Restraint)
2. Global Internet Freedom / International Human Rights
3. Internet Architecture / Role of ISPs
4. Internet Governance / Domain Name System
5. Ineffectiveness and Security Risks from Evasion
And FYI – Another internet resource following this development is Techdirt , which is a highly respected blog that follows, in addition to a number of IP related interests, bills in the senate related to this and other COICA issues.
“Alright, Nicole,” you’re saying to yourself right now. “So what’s going on right now that we need to be aware of?”
Fine, fine. I’ll get to the point. The bill was intended to get passed under-the-radar and without review from congress people or with open discussion. It was postponed because of “An Open Letter From Internet Engineers to the Senate Judiciary Committee” and because of the actions of individuals who actually wrote to their senators, letting them know what was happening, something you can do through the EFF Action Center .
What’s of concern right now is that the same companies are attempting to get the ISPs that would be impacted to voluntarily create this blacklist, the implications of which would be even harder to combat as an affront to both Net Neutrality, censorship, or constitutional protections. It really makes my skin crawl.
I’ll be looking more into what the word is for the voluntarily black list, but readers-be warned, this bill is set to be reintroduced and fast-tracked after the mid-term elections.
Here’s to keeping ahead of their game.
(c) Nicole L. M. Jurkowski 2010