Internet censorship is a hot topic this year.
During the past 12 months the U.S. Government seized more than 100 domain names it claimed were promoting copyright infringement. But this was just the beginning. The domain seizures pale in comparison to a bill that’s about to be introduced by U.S. lawmakers.
Dubbed the PROTECT IP Act, the bill will introduce a wide-scale of censorship tools authorities and copyright holders can use to quash websites they claim are facilitating copyright infringement. It is basically a revamped and worsened version of the controversial COICA proposal which had to be resubmitted after its enaction failed last year.
The summary of the bill begins with a recital of the now-standard industry claims about the financial harm caused by copyright infringement. Claims that interestingly enough were put in doubt by the U.S. Government last year, but are still used to push anti-piracy legislation through globally.
“Copyright infringement and the sale of counterfeit goods are reported to cost American creators and producers billions of dollars and to result in hundreds of thousands in lost jobs annually. This pervasive problem has assumed an especially threatening form on the Internet,” the bill document reads.
It is further explained that the PROTECT IP Act is needed as an extension of the already controversial domain seizures. As reported previously, it is now relatively easy for a seized website to continue operating under a new non-US based domain name. With the new bill, however, the authorities and copyright holders have a broader scale of tools they can use.
“The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (“PROTECT IP Act”) authorizes the Justice Department to file a civil action against the registrant or owner of a domain name that accesses a foreign Internet site, or the foreign-registered domain name itself, and to seek a preliminary order from the court that the site is dedicated to infringing activities,” the document continues.
In case a domain is not registered or controlled by a U.S. company, the authorities can also order search engines to remove the website from its search results, order ISPs to block the website, and order ad-networks and payment processors to stop providing services to the website in question.
“If the court issues an order against the registrant, owner, or domain name, resulting from the DOJ-initiated suit, the Attorney General is authorized to serve that order on specified U.S. based third-parties, including Internet service providers, payment processors, online advertising network providers, and search engines. These third parties would then be required to take appropriate action to either prevent access to the Internet site, or cease doing business with the Internet site.”
Although the above is already quite far-reaching, the bill also allows for private copyright holders to use some of the same tools as the Government. Without due process, copyright holders can obtain a court order to prevent payment providers and ad-networks from doing business with sites that allegedly facilitate copyright infringement. Unlike the DOJ, copyright holders can not obtain orders to block sites through ISPs or search engines.
The summary of the bill does not go into the constitutional issues that arise with several of the measures. However, it ensures that the legislation is in the best interest of the public by protecting people from any website that “endangers the public health.” The only protection for accused websites is that they can “petition the court to suspend or vacate the order,” but lessons from the previous domain seizures show that this process can take up several months.
The PROTECT IP Act is expected to be officially introduced in the coming weeks, and more details will be released at the time. Sources close to the U.S Government say the bill has already gathered a lot of support among legislators, which is a worrying message for the relatively free-Internet as its known today.