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Monday, 16 January 2012

Open Digital PAC votes unanimously to join global protest against copyright anti-piracy overreach, Weds 18th Jan

The following is posted on the Open Digital blog:

Today our Policy Advisory Council voted unanimously in favour of Open Digital joining a global protest against two US bills to tackle copyright infringement that we feel go too far.

The motion was simply "should we join the protest?" All six members voted in favour.

Here's what I told PAC members when I proposed the blackout:

Web giants like Reddit and Tucows will lead a pack of websites going dark for 12 hours on the 18th January to protest two bills - the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Propect IP Act (PIPA) - working their way through US congress.  UK educational technology charity Raspberry Pi will be amongst UK websites joining the protest.

Whilst over the weekend it emerged SOPA's most controversial measure, DNS blocking, has been removed and the White House has urged congress to ensure measures strike a good balance for civil liberties, the bills still contain significant over-reach that will impact the liability of website operators worldwide.

Measures in both bills are disproportionate to the problem and threaten companies around the world operating any website which features user generated content.

Overseas websites could find themselves barred from payment service providers for a relatively low level of infringement, for example a service streaming just 10 infringing works in any 6-month period could fall foul of criminal penalties under Section 201 of the bill (bill text here). Criminal sanctions include up to 5 years in prison.

10 infringements is relatively tiny for a popular streaming service like YouTube or Vimeo and California-based lawyer Cathy Gellis told me in an interview for the Pod Delusion it was unclear how this new liability would sit alongside so-called safe harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, itself a powerful tool for rights holders to get copyright infringing content removed from websites and search engines.

Whilst I support “going after the money” to strangle the cash flow for websites clearly profiting from copyright infringement on a criminal scale, this has to be done in a way that's proportionate to the problem and minimises the impact on legitimate business and free speech.

Both bills unfairly shift the liability for mere links and their definition of what constitutes criminal infringement is far too broad.

Establishing what is and what isn’t copyright infringement is difficult enough for a court, never mind a forum moderator employed by a start-up company to police what users post and say. This shift in liability is unfair given the complexity of establishing ownership and I strongly believe it will impact many legitimate services.

I'm also personally worried about the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer for alleged copyright infringement on a website hosted and run from the UK.  SOPA and PIPA both increase criminal liability and, if the UK is willing to hand over its citizens for breaching copyright laws in a foreign country, SOPA and PIPA are relevant to all UK residents.


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