The Wrong Way to Protect IP
For a few months now we’ve been tracking a couple of ostensibly artist-friendly bills in Congress that are designed to enhance the ability of copyright-holders to enforce their rights online by shutting down websites dedicated to piracy of intellectual property. Think MP3s, movies, and filesharing (and some more nefarious stuff, too, like Russian websites that sell complete digital albums for a few bucks and never pay the artists).
The House bill is called SOPA (H.R. 3261), and its Senate counterpart is the Protect IP Act (S. 968). So far, folks claiming to represent artists have lined up in support. Mainly that includes the RIAA and the MPAA (hence “claiming” to represent). Most of the big performing arts unions have also signed on.
Fractured Atlas has the largest membership of any arts service organization in the country. As a non-profit, our raison d’etre is to support and assist the arts community in whatever ways we can. It should go without saying that we believe passionately in the importance of artists being paid for their work. We fundamentally believe in copyright and think it can and should be enforced. The problem is that these bills are the wrong way to do it.
The enforcement mechanisms in SOPA and Protect IP will have a dangerous, destabilizing effect on the technical fabric of the internet. This isn’t the right forum for a deeply technical discussion, but suffice it to say that they mess with the Domain Name System, a.k.a. DNS. DNS is how your browser knows what server to look for when you type in a web address like www.fracturedatlas.org or www.google.com. For an excellent and fairly accessible summary of the inherent flaws in this approach, check out this piece from the Center for Democracy and Technology. There’s also a great post on Copyblogger.
The other big problem with SOPA and Protect IP is that they allow for private right of action. That means there’s little to no due process involved. It would be terrifyingly easy for someone to shut down a competitor’s website by falsely claiming it was illegally distributing copyrighted material. Yes, there are ways to defend oneself, but they’ve proven complicated, expensive, and error prone. So unless you can afford a team of high-priced lawyers, you’re vulnerable.
This afternoon I wrote a letter to Senate leadership urging them not to proceed with passing Protect IP without giving a full hearing to alternative approaches. The full copy of the letter is embedded below.
If you’d like to weigh in yourself, you can use this tool provided by Daily Kos. It’ll just take a few seconds to get your message to your Senators. Even better, talk to your Senators while they’re on the January recess.
It’s admirable that folks in Congress want to stand up for the rights of artists. But let’s be smart about it. Instead of rushing through misguided, dangerous legislation, let’s all take a deep breath, go back to the drawing board, and take the time to get this right.
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