Jul 122012
Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), author of SOPA and now the IPAA

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX)

Sometimes it seems that bad things never die; like zombies, they rise from the grave . . . again and again. Yes, a new version of SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act that was killed off earlier this year is now back as a new bill in the House of Representatives, titled the Intellectual Property Attaché Act (IPAA).  Dust off those Guy Fawkes masks as it appears to just be SOPA under another name – it was even introduced by the same author, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX). Good grief, this man must hate the Web – at the very least, he doesn’t understand how it functions.

Like its predecessor, under the IPAA a user would only need to accuse another website of a violation of copyright.  Search engine results, payment and advertising systems would then have to be terminated within five days. Even more troubling, the IPAA has significantly broader support in the House of Representatives, with many of those opposed to SOPA in favor of the latest reincarnation. In other words, we have another fight on our hands.

Here are the details from Readwriteweb:

A new bill is about to be officially introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives that would resurrect some unsavory aspects of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that sparked widespread protests last winter.

The bill, which the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up as soon as today, is titled the Intellectual Property Attaché Act (IPAA) and is primarily designed to expand the powers of so-called IP attachés within a new agency inside the Department of Commerce, even to the point of establishing a new Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property.

This is a very deliberate shift within the bureaucracy that’s designed to expand the powers of the intellectual property enforcement agents who work within the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). The primary mission of these new IP attachés would be, according to the bill, “to achieve potential benefit by reducing intellectual property infringement in the United States market and globally.”

One way to interpret this mission? Giving members of the diplomatic corps more powers to enforce intellectual property violations around the world.

What’s the Problem This Time?

Given that IP violations are against the law, where’s the problem? Opponents of the SOPA and PIPA bills from late 2011 and early 2012 will recognize this expansion of powers as part of the SOPA act, though at the time the provision got very little attention.

Those bills gave a number of new powers to copyright holders who found content on a website that they believed infringed on their copyright:

  1. They could ask any vendor providing revenue to that site to stop. For instance, the request could go to advertising or credit card providers for the allegedly infringing site, and they would have five days to cut their ties with the site.
  2. The bills would have enabled the U.S. Attorney General to send court orders to DNS server operators ordering them to stop resolving the domain names of allegedly infringing sites to their matching IP addresses – making it impossible for Web browsers to reach the sites by name.
  3. Search engines would also be required to remove or block links to these sites.

Protesters were incensed, particularly because all of these actions could have been set in motion by private corporations, with no requirements for legal proof.

A copyright holder need only accuse a website of infringement, and the search engine, advertisement and payment systems would be cut off in five days. DNS filtering would need the involvement of the Department of Justice to get a court order, but again, there would be no need to prove anything to obtain such an order from a judge. . . .

. . . . Clearly, Hollywood and other intellectual property holders would love to see IPAA passed: It actually expands on some aspects of SOPA/PIPA. And government agents with more power to enforce private intellectual property rights both domestically and globally is a taxpayer-funded dream for copyright holders. 

You can read an alternative – and less critical – view of the implications of ITAA over at Digital Trends, but having read through some sections of the legislation, I sense trouble.

Feb 112012

There have been protests in over 200 European cities today against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) despite the brutal winter weather of the past few weeks. ACTA’s already been approved by most European governments but still needs the approval of the European Parliament and will probably come up for a vote in June. In ways similar to the now slumbering SOPA and PIPA legislation in the United States, it would criminalize a good deal of activity on the Web without effectively stopping piracy.

Here’s a map of today’s ACTA protests:

ACTA is not actually legislation, but far worse: a  trade agreement negotiated in secret by the United States and Japan with the participation of a few other countries and industries. It’s all been done in secrecy and were it not for leaked drafts, even less would be known about how it was developed.

Bulgarian MPs in Guy Fawkes Masks to Protest ACTA

Bulgarian MPs in Guy Fawkes Masks

You’ll find two good accounts of ACTA agreement at Stop ACTA and at the  Electronic Frontier Foundation. If you are in favor of an open society, of creativity, of the right to remix and make appropriate reuse of material on the Web, this is not the time to fall asleep. The concept of copyright needs to be upheld; criminalizing everything we do on the Web is not the solution. If your really undecided or think this agreement is a good idea, take a look at Killacta.org. Just read through reason number 5:

ACTA Permanently bypasses democracy by giving the “ACTA Committee” the power to “propose amendments to [ACTA]” (article 6.4). In other words, voting for ACTA writes a blank check to an unelected committee. These closed-door proceedings will be a playground for SOPA-supporters like the MPAA. 

Jan 252012
Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre

Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre

There’s ample evidence that we are an increasingly visual culture as both still images and video spread through the use of digital cameras, smart phones and the like. In a way, we are back in the heady days of the birth of photography, shortly after Daguerre’s famous presentation to the French Academy of Sciences when the French government released his invention “free to the world” (and gave Daguerre a modest pension). In truth, the beginnings of photography are decidedly more complicated than this, but the world (those parts of the world that could afford it and get the chemicals) went mad with this new obsession, photographing everything in sight.

We fell in love with images. And as the children of that era, perhaps we are now just reaching adolescence – in all senses of that term: growth, change, possibility, and a troubling bit of awkwardness (those politician photos on Twitter). But change has come and we are riding a Tsunami of visual information that show no signs of slowing down. Continue reading »

Jan 212012

The comedian Bill Maher just doesn’t get it when it comes to SOPA and PIPA. Seems to still be hurting over his not-overly-successful movie. Yes, there were pirated copies of the comedy-documentary Religulous floating around but maybe if the movie had been better, there would have been more ticket or post-theater sales. He is right that there is a “moral dimension” to piracy that doesn’t get discussed, but it might come up if the other side wasn’t so unbelievably radical in its solutions. Clearly he does not get how the Internet works-at least admits he has not read the bill (but, hey, even a summary might help)-and seems focused totally on the idea that this is something whites do – “Caucasian looting” is how he terms it. Yep, there’s a digital divide, but it’s not quite like that.

Come on Maher, you’re a funny and often a bright man, sometimes one of the few to tell it like it is. You can do better than than the conclusion that “people just want free sh*t.” Not surprisingly, he gets shot down by his three guests, each taking it from a different perspective:

Jan 212012

Here’s Clay Shirky on TED.com, actually at the TED offices with a hard-hitting statement on what SOPA and PIPA would mean for the Internet. A strong statement “to defend our freedom to create, discuss, link and share, rather than passively consume.”

The most important point here: it would upend the current legal approach to policing copyright under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) begun in 1998, making users essentially guilt until proven innocent. But whether you agree with Shirky or not, it’s worth 14 minutes of your time to watch:

Jan 182012


A number of the most popular Websites went dark for the day to protest the SOPA and PIPA legislation working its way through Congress. While SOPA has been temporarily stopped, the Senate version of the bill is still scheduled for a vote. It appears that the protest has been somewhat effective as a number of Senators have withdrawn their support over the course of the day.

In some ways, this may mark a new era for the Web in terms of social activism for the future of the online environment. And it may signify a new era in that topics such as DNS and domain blocking will become part of our cultural vocabulary, terms that will now be understood (to some degree or another) by people outside the technology field. Surely everyone does not need to fully understand these concepts any more than people who drive will ever fully understand the composition and lifespan of concrete. But those who drive do understand potholes and washouts and these bills do exactly that with the Internet. They would turn it from its current role as a producer/consumer environment into a consumption only arena (and one that would be controlled by large corporations).

In short, they would kill the Web as a creative space.

If you need more information, look at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) summary FAQ on reddit.com or a more detailed analysis here. Even if you are not from the United States (almost 50% of the readers of this blog are overseas), this affects you. Please educate yourself. Piracy is not defensible, but the solution is not to cut the telephone lines for everyone just because a few lines were used to plot illegal activity. This is a beginning – please do your part.


Jan 162012

UpSOPA Lamar Smith PosterSOPA has finally, at long last, died. Representative Eric Canter has announced that he is stopping action on SOPA in the House of Representatives. According to the Examiner, this effective kills the bill, though there is still concern about the Senate version, PIPA, which has 40 co-sponsors. Rep. Issa issued the following statement:

While I remain concerned about Senate action on the Protect IP Act [PIPA], I am confident that flawed legislation will not be taken up by this House. Majority Leader Cantor has assured me that we will continue to work to address outstanding concerns and work to build consensus prior to any anti-piracy legislation coming before the House for a vote.


Original Post (Jan. 16, 2012): It’s been a long battle but the tide is rapidly turning against SOPA, the Stop Online Priacy Act that has been working its way through Congress with significant bipartisan support. According to Forbes, a number of supporting are backing down including the author of the bill, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) who released the following statement from his office:

After consultation with industry groups across the country, I feel we should remove DNS-blocking from the Stop Online Piracy Act so that the [U.S. House Judiciary] Committee can further examine the issues surrounding this provision.

This is how Wired described the new proposal:

Under the amended plan (.pdf), which was released late Monday, a judge would have to order ad networks to stop doing business with a site “dedicated” to infringing activities. Under the original proposal, a rights holder could make those demands on an ad network or payment processor and effectively kill off the site.

Still not perfect, but the DNS-blocking provision based simply on the request of the rights holder was one of the most damning aspects of the bill.

Other developments: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) is considering an amendment to scale back the Protect IP Act (S.968), or PIPA, the Senate version of the bill. In addition, the Obama administration’s technology team has come out against the bill. Finally, Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA), has decided to not hold hearings with DNS experts. Issa was at the Consumer Electronics Show last week to drum up opposition to the bill and propose the alternative OPEN Act that would have the International Trade Commission deal with piracy issues.

As Matthew Yglesia argues in Slate:

For the economy as a whole, I’ve never seen any compelling evidence that online piracy is in fact a real problem. If it was a real problem, you would expect the problem to manifest itself in the form of consumers with cash in their pockets finding themselves unable to find songs to listen to or films or TV shows to watch. Obviously content-producers (like me!) would prefer to have higher revenues, but if there’s a genuine problem here it should manifest itself on the consumer side as creators just give up on writing new books or whatever. To say that there’s no real problem here isn’t to say we need to move to a zero-copyright or zero-enforcement world, it’s simply to observe that the enforcement status quo actually seems fine.