The PROTECT IP Act (COICA Redux) Is Still a Bad Idea

The proposed PROTECT IP act is an improvement on COICA, but still makes the wrong trade-offs between protecting copyright holders and defending the integrity of the Internet.

There are several major modifications from the COICA draft.  The key ones are first that only the DOJ can initiate procedures against foreign web sites that would result in exclusion of these sites from DNS and second that for domestic websites the only type of injunctive relief available is financial (no advertising support, no financial transaction processing) and there is no DNS exclusion for domestic sites.  Caveat emptor: this is based on my own reading of the law which you can find here as a PDF (in past legal debates I have discovered too many people copying wrong readings of laws from each other).

At first blush these might seem like a sufficiently good compromise position.  What do we care if a few foreign torrent sites are no longer part of DNS in the US?  And why not cut off the financial air supply for US sites that are copyright infringers?

Here is why we should care: the US should be the global leader in defending unfettered access to and usage of the Internet by citizens everywhere.  Once we compromise the integrity of a basic service such as DNS in the name of copyright protection, we have no moral authority left to object to other nations manipulating the Internet for reasons that they consider expedient, such as suppressing political opposition.  We cannot really criticize China for having a firewall once we start blocking foreign sites or cutting off domestic ones from their revenues on an injunctive relief basis, meaning without the other side being able to fight this in a court of law before the action is imposed as opposed to ex-post facto (yes, there are notice provisions in the PROTECT IP act but these are meaningless as currently drafted since there is no clear notice period and no ability to remedy).

This bill is the result of trying to impose the economics of scarcity by law into the realm of digital abundance.  The sponsors of the bill refer to the sale of counterfeit goods as one reason for this bill but that strikes me as a red herring.  This bill really appears to be about protecting publishers, music labels and movie studios in their existing form.  I will argue in upcoming posts that employment in entertainment and intellectual property sectors can be helped more by embracing an open Internet than by fighting it and that on top of everything else PROTECT IP won’t even be effective on the terms laid out by its sponsors (for fairly obvious technical reasons, such as direct TCP/IP access).

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Posted: 16th May 2011Comments
Tags:  Copyright internet US China PROTECT IP COICA

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