It couldn’t have been better timed, but UMG (Universal Music Group) has decided to overreach and abuse their power just as the debate about SOPA is picking up. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is a bill up for vote that if passed would be among the most heavy handed and unreasonable anti-piracy laws on the planet – and that from a country that is supposed to be among the most free.
More information can be found here: http://fightforthefuture.org/ or here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act (or just about anywhere else with a simple web search), but the key is this – it would give the US Dept. of Justice and companies that hold copyrights (like UMG) to get court orders against websites that are accused of using or hosting copyright infringing content. This bill would entrust these wholly untrustworthy copyright holders with the right to censor the internet, and would criminalize the infrastructure of the web as we know it.
The recent actions by UMG against Megaupload only underscore this danger. Megaupload posted a music video for which they owned all of the rights – the music, the celebrity appearances, everything. But UMG forced a takedown from YouTube using the power they already have from the existing DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act), which is actually much weaker than SOPA would be. Megaupload contested the takedown, but after being reinstated, the video was immediately taken down again by UMG leaving Megaupload with little recourse.
What we see here is a vindictive abuse of power because UMG are not fans of Megaupload’s business model, but that has nothing to do with the legality of the song they posted. This is an example of how censorship powers given to corporations will act – as thehill.com describes it, as “a domestic ‘kill switch’ on First Amendment freedom in the fastest-growing corner of the marketplace of ideas.”
Passing SOPA and giving this power to groups who have already displayed willingness to flaunt their abuse of power is a recipe for disaster. And the bill itself is the product of backward thinking and intellectual protectionism so out of date as to have been from a bygone era. Allowing the dinosaurs in congress to do the bidding of the dinosaurs at the major media conglomerates is a mistake any way you try to examine it.
But this abuse of power is really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how this will impact the web. SOPA doesn’t just criminalize sites that host copyright infringing content, it also criminalizes linking to those sites, essentially “criminaliz[ing] linking and the fundamental structure of the Internet itself,” according to Eric Schmidt - Google CEO. This is a criminalization of the intermediaries equivalent to arresting the mailman who unknowingly delivers something illegal or forcing the Postal Service to inspect and violate the privacy of all mail senders rather than targeting mechanisms at those who are actually breaking the law.
Here at JESS3 we work for the internet, and if you’re reading this, then it’s likely that you do as well. It’s time to make sure that we make noise when the openness and freedoms inherent to the web are threatened. Educate yourself, and then see if you can educate those around you.
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