The PROTECT IP Act, the legislation that would erect the “Great Firewall of America” has had been building increasing resistance from the American people. Recently, ninety law professors have signed a letter opposing the legislation.
The RIAA may have made a red herring argument that hacktivist groups are reason enough to push for the PROTECT IP act but there are many that refuse to accept government mandated censorship in the US. That includes a growing number of law professors who signed an open letter to express their opposition to the act. From the letter:
We, the undersigned law professors who teach and write about intellectual property and Internet law, strongly urge the members of Congress to reject the PROTECT IP Act (the “Act”). Although the problems the Act attempts to address – online copyright and trademark infringement – are serious ones presenting new and difficult enforcement challenges, the approach taken in the Act has grave constitutional infirmities, potentially dangerous consequences for the stability and security of the Internet’s addressing system, and will undermine United States foreign polocy and strong support for free expression on the Internet around the world.
The Act would allow the government to break the Internet addressing system. It requires Internet service providers and operators of Internet name servers, to refuse to recognize Internet domains that a court considers “dedicated to infringement activities.” But rather than wait until a Web site is actually judged infringing before imposing the equivalent of an Internet death penalty, the Act would allow courts to order any Internet service provider to stop recognizing the site even on a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction issued the same day the complaint is filed. Courts could issue such an order even if the owner of that domain name was never given notice that a case against it had been filed at all.
The Act goes still further. It requires credit card providers, advertisers, and search engines to refuse to deal with the owners of such sites. For example, search engines are required to “(i) remove or disable access to the Internet site associated with the domain name set forth in the court order, or (ii) not serve a hypertext link to such Internet site.” In the case of credit card companies and advertisers, they must stop doing business not only with sites the government has chosen to sue but any site that a private copyright or trademark owner claims is predominantly infringing. Giving this enormous new power not just to the government but to any copyright and trademark owner would not only disrupt the operations of the allegedly infringing web site without a final judgement of wrongdoing, but would make it extraordinarily difficult for advertisers and credit card companies to do business on the Internet.
The letter goes on to describe three reasons why the Act should be opposed. The first is the suppression of speech without a proper hearing (thus, unconstitutional), the second is that it breaks the internet infrastructure, and third, it undermines the United States position in supporting and defending free speech and the free exchange of information on the Internet. Looking through the letter, all three of these arguments against the Act look very solid to me. Looking at things broadly, it really boils down to one thing: will the United States choose to support a few corporate interests or will it choose to support it’s international and domestic interests? If the United States chooses the former in this case, then it really has absolutely no moral authority to criticize places like China for attempts to control or curtail free speech. If the United States chooses the latter, then it upsets organizations like the RIAA and might finally push the entertainment industry to adapt to a modern era – maybe, maybe not.
Technologically speaking, censoring websites will never be fully possible. In addition, such a measure will never be able to fully stop copyright infringement. The only way I personally have ever seen it possible to eliminate all copyright infringement is to completely dismantle the Internet from top to bottom – and I argue that this will happen over Google, Yahoo,eBay, Amazon and numerous other eCommerce sites dead bodies. It didn’t work for China, it hasn’t been working in Thailand, it’ll never work in Australia and it was a failure in Germany. It’s a dead on arrival policy.
In the end, it’s a case of “nothing to gain, everything to lose” type policy. In my view, it’s little more than common sense to oppose such legislation. We can only hope that there is enough in the US government to kill the legislation.