Anti-Piracy Measures Shouldn’t Stifle Free Speech, EFF Says

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation has warned the Copyright Office that aggressive copyright enforcement policies could stifle innovation, free speech, and other basic human rights. Anti-piracy filters, website blockades, and terminating Internet accounts of repeat copyright infringers, will come at a high cost, the organization says.

Still undecided about the future of the DMCA law, the U.S. Government’s Copyright Office extended its public consultation to evaluate the effectiveness of the Safe Harbor provisions.

The study aims to signal problems with the current takedown procedures and addresses ISPs’ repeat infringer policies, copyright takedown abuses, and the ever-increasing volume of DMCA notices.

Together with various rightsholders and Internet services, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also submitted its recommendations this week. The digital rights group believes that the current law works as it should, and warns against a copyright enforcement expansion.

The Internet provides a crucial role in facilitating freedom of expression, something that shouldn’t be limited by far-reaching anti-piracy measures, the organization argues.

“Internet intermediaries provide the backbone for Internet users’ expression and are key to the public’s ability to exercise these rights,” EFF writes in its submission.

“Accordingly, the public has a strong interest in ensuring that the Internet remains a viable and accessible platform for free expression and innovation, and in ensuring that online platforms don’t unduly remove, filter, or block speech from the Internet.”

One of the areas of interest for the Copyright Office is how to deal with repeat infringers. The DMCA law requires Internet providers to have a repeat infringer policy in place, but stakeholders have different views on what these should look like.

According to the EFF, however, terminating people’s Internet access is much more than a slap on the wrist, as it can severely impede people’s ability to function in today’s society.

“Conduit ISPs serve as the bridge between their subscribers and the entire Internet. Terminating a subscriber’s Internet access account imposes a far more significant penalty that merely cutting off access to a single Internet service.”

Nowadays, terminating an Internet account often means that the entire household will be affected. The EFF warns that as a result, many people will lose access to important information and tools, which are needed for school, jobs, and even government services.

“Indeed, as former President Obama stated, Internet access today is ‘not a luxury, it’s a necessity’,” the EFF adds.

Another question posted by the Copyright Office deals with the necessity for anti-piracy filters. Yesterday, the RIAA and other music groups spoke out in favor of automated filters but the EFF fiercely opposes the idea.

One of the problems the group signals is that filtering will require Internet services to monitor their users’ activity, causing privacy concerns. In addition these filters will also be imprecise, targeting content that’s considered fair use, for example.

Finally, automated filters will require Internet services to police the Internet, which can be quite costly and stifle free speech at the same time.

“…by shifting the burden and cost of enforcement away from copyright holders and onto service providers, these proposals would stifle competition for Internet services, exacerbate current problems with the notice and takedown system, and increase the risk that valuable, lawful speech will be silenced,” the EFF writes.

The same free speech argument also applies to site-blocking initiatives. According to the EFF, such blocking efforts also restrict access to legitimate material. At the same time, the measures are far from effective.

“Site-blocking often has broader impacts on lawful online speech than intended. When entire domains are blocked, every other page hosted by those domains are subject to the block, regardless of whether they contain infringing content.

“Site-blocking is also largely ineffective at stemming online copyright infringement. Many sites are able to relaunch at new URLs, and users are often able to circumvent blocks using VPNs and the Tor browser,” the group adds.

In summary, the EFF concludes that overall the current law works pretty well and the group warns the Copyright Office not to give in to the broad “filter-everything” push from major copyright industry groups.

The EFF’s full submission to the U.S. Copyright office is available here (pdf).

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