China is often criticized for its Internet censorship practices. Although this is certainly valid with regard to political issues, the United States is rapidly becoming one of the most progressive countries when it comes to commercial censorship. Safeguarding commercial interests is increasingly preferred above the rights of the general public. Ironically, BitTorrent sites may have to flee to China to keep their ‘freedom’.
In response to the Homeland Security seizures of last weekend and the upcoming COICA bill, many torrent site owners have started to work on backup plans in case they are targeted in the near future.
A few dozen sites have registered alternative domains, including the semi-private tracker Demonoid who already moved away from their .com domain earlier today.
Other torrent site operators have also bought additional backup domains, TorrentFreak has learned. To emphasize the irony of the situation, Chinese domains seem to be favored, but mosts sites have more than a few. One of the torrent site owners who already had a .hk backup domain is isoHunt’s Gary Fung.
Fung, who’s based in Canada where he runs his company, has been fighting the movie industry in US courts for nearly 5 years. Currently, he is appealing a ruling which forced isoHunt to implement a filter of film related keywords for US visitors.
Although this keyword filter was ordered through the normal legal channels, the US authorities have recently stretched the boundaries of commercial censorship. The owner of Torrent-Finder lost control over his .com domain a few days ago, without being informed and without any opportunity to defend himself.
With the COICA bill, this type of censorship is expected to only increase, and isoHunt’s Gary Fung points out to TorrentFreak that this is a worrying situation.
“Countries like China censor for political reason, US with COICA will censor for copyright and commercial reason. It’ll be a chilling parallel put into serious question how the US should still be in charge of the much of the internet infrastructure like the root DNS, or how US can continue to claim as the model example for free-speaking democracy.”
Where China’s censorship is mostly fed by the Government’s concerns, in the US it’s the copyright holders who fuel the fire. Interestingly, the authorities are quite open about the fact that last weekend’s seizures were a direct response to complaints from private companies.
“In general, what we can say is, there are specific complaints from rights holders that these sites were infringing on copyrights,” Erik Barnett of Homeland Security’s ICE said in response to the seizures.
And then there’s Google of course. The search engine that pulled out of China over censorship concerns, announced just a few hours ago that it will censor auto completion on ‘piracy’ related searches worldwide. Apparently censorship is not that bad in some cases.
“We will prevent terms that are closely associated with piracy from appearing in Autocomplete. While it’s hard to know for sure when search terms are being used to find infringing content, we’ll do our best to prevent Autocomplete from displaying the terms most frequently used for that purpose,” Google writes.
This probably means that “thep” will no longer suggest “thepiratebay” and that the word “torrent” won’t be added to movie or music related searches anymore. Yes, that’s yet another successful lobby effort from the entertainment industry, and just a small step from banning ‘rogue’ sites from the search results altogether.
Earlier, the RIAA and MPAA handed in their wish lists for the COICA censorship bill, if it should pass. Judging from the comments from Homeland Security, this means that sites such as The Pirate Bay, isoHunt, RapidShare and MegaUpload may be next, as they were labeled as rogue websites by the movie and music industry representatives.
isoHunt’s Gary Fung was not impressed to see his site included on both lists though.
“For RIAA, MPAA’s slandering of us as rogue websites, it’s political PR and lobbying that has no basis in reality and ignorable. Perhaps they should be educated in the many non-infringing uses of BitTorrent and P2P, or they risk listing every social media and sharing website as rogue,” Fung told us.
The question is whether this lobbying will indeed be ineffective. Recent history offers little reassurance. It only takes a single seizure warning to take a site down, infringing or not. But then again, there’s always China where torrent sites like isoHunt can flee to if needed.