Monday, November 09, 2009

The US Government Wants to Kill YouTube and Cut Off Your Internet

Have you heard about ACTA? The so-called "Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement"? If you haven't, and you like this whole "Internet" thing, you damned well better start paying attention.

ACTA is a secret anti-"piracy" treaty that has been negotiated over the past few years, most recently in Korea. That's "secret" as in "you aren't supposed to know what's in it until it's too late". In fact, when pressed on the contents, the Obama administration has said that they can't talk about it because of "national security".

Fortunately, it's been leaked. And here's a nice brief summary from Cory Doctorow of why they were so desperate for you not to find out what's in it:
* That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn't infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.

* That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet -- and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living -- if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.

* That the whole world must adopt US-style "notice-and-takedown" rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused -- again, without evidence or trial -- of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.

* Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose (e.g., to make a work available to disabled people; for archival preservation; because you own the copyrighted work that is locked up with DRM)
So your kid watches a few YouTube videos, and all of a sudden you have lost access to the Internet for a year. You don't even get the benefit of the presumption of innocence: they are ordered to cut off ACCUSED INFRINGERS, not convicted infringers.

(How this could be constitutional is beyond me.)

And, hey, here's hoping you aren't blind! Use the wrong reader and all of a sudden you're in the pokey, sucker!

Wired had a good name for all this: "Policy laundering". The White House knows that it can't push this through, so it's going to do it indirectly:

Obama hasn’t asked Congress to implement a three-strike policy, which could anger consumers and watchdog groups. But if the administration gets three strikes written into ACTA, and the United States signs and ratifies the treaty, Congress would be obliged to change the DMCA to comply with it, while the administration throws its hands in the air and says, “It wasn’t our idea! It’s that damn treaty!”

That practice is common enough to have a name: policy laundering.

Language in the leaked text throws open the door to ISP filtering for unauthorized content, though there’s no way for filters to know whether the material constitutes fair use. That plan is similar to a proposal by the Motion Picture Association of America, which wants ISPs to filter for unauthorized motion pictures.

The three-strikes language would be gold to companies like MediaSentry, which browse peer-to-peer networks for infringing content, and identify a user’s IP address and ISP. MediaSentry’s work was crucial in the RIAA’s 6-year-long litigation campaign that amounted to about 30,000 copyright lawsuits against individual file sharers using Kazaa, Limewire and other services.

Until today, the most alarming thing in the proposed ACTA treaty has been the secrecy surrounding it. But now the threat level is higher. It seems the executive branch would rather negotiate with other nations, instead of its own elected officials, about the future of a free and open internet.
Well put. This is a problem with the whole process of treaty-making in general: countries will too often use it as a way of dealing with domestic goals that they know the public won't support. It's a Democratic trick that's a lot like their constant reaches for "bipartisanship": They don't want to wear the policy, they want opponents to just get mad at "Washington", or "The System": or, in this case, the international community.

And, usually, it's the sort of policy that doesn't benefit anybody but their buddies, donors, fundraisers, and future employers/fellow board-members. It's the stuff they know is going to harm ordinary consumers and ordinary workers, like free trade agreements with countries whose "union protection" boils down to "do what we say and maybe we won't liquidate your shop steward". Or, in this case, exploitative and one-sided trademark, copyright and patent treaties.

Fortunately the attempts to keep it secret have not worked. The text is available. You can find it at Michael Geist's site, both as an embedded text and as a linked PDF. (Download the PDF of the text here.)

This is disgusting mischief, and will only harm the public and the cause of online innovation and creativity.The fall of YouTube and other media hosting sites would be an absolute disaster. Families will be cut off from the backbone of modern communications because their kid may or may not have visited the wrong website. ISPs will fear, quite rightly, that the next step is being held responsible for transmitted content. And none of this will dissuade the real pirates in the least, who are already quite adept at evading the privacy-destroying organizations that will be profiting from the adoption of this travesty.

They wanted it to be quiet. They wanted it to be secret. It's not secret anymore, and we clearly shouldn't be quiet about it.

Make a stink, folks.

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