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Preserving the Digital Market: Who Speaks for the Internet? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Joe Callan   
Friday, 04 February 2011 16:45

Between global concerns about communication security and intellectual property infringement, differences in governing bodies and ISPs, and growing legislation regarding internet policy, how do we address legitimate concerns while maintaining the free and entreprenurial spirit The Internet has come to represent in the 21st century?

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) is ten years old. It’s now been nearly three years since the Anti-Phishing Consumer Protection Act (known well to domainers as the Snowe Bill) was rejected by US Congress. Still, the fight to balance the needs of protecting intellectual property and the rights of domain registrants and internet users at large carries on.

COICA: Out of Committee, on the Table

Last month we reported on Senate Bill 3804, also known as the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act.

While the bill professes noble aims, the language in the propsed legislation was structured in a broad way that could mean far-reaching consequences for domain investors and internet users. Easily passing a lightning fast vote to allow it out of committee and onto the Senate floor, COICA now stands to be passed in the current congressional session.

On its website, eff.org, the Electronic Freedom Foundation spelled out concise concerns:

Although it is ostensibly focused on copyright infringement, an enormous amount of noninfringing content, including political and other speech, could disappear off the Web if it passes.

The main mechanism of the bill is to interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which translates names like “www.eff.org” or “www.nytimes.com” into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. The bill creates a blacklist of censored domains; the Attorney General can ask a court to place any website on the blacklist if infringement is “central” to the purpose of the site.

There are already laws and procedures in place for taking down sites that violate the law. This act would allow the Attorney General to censor sites even when no court has found they have infringed copyright or any other law.

That last part might be the most important component to this legislation: “offenders” need only be accused to be affected by this blacklist, meaning that those domain and website owners that are accused in error temporarily forfeit the use of their domain names without any judiciary process.

While intellectual property is a powerful asset that needs to be protected, we must balance that protection with the individual rights of business owners and citizens alike.

Clear Aims Require Clear Language

It has be clear to lawmakers that opposition to bills like COICA isn’t coming from a fringe group of citizens looking for a digital wild west (though some of us might be willing to admit we miss those days). In our last issue, we outlined concerns about COICA from the Internet Commerce Association, the EFF, and a number of prominent internet engineers.

Legitimate companies must defend their marks against cybersquatters, and legitimate content providers must defend their intellectual property--but without the proper mechanisms and processes in place, these goals will elude the industries that seek these protections as easily as after DMCA passed.

Anti-piracy measures must be tempered--not only to protect the rights of the citizens and entrepreneurs investing in the still-growing digital medium of the net, but also to assure that the measures will be effective in their aims. Let’s consider DMCA’s effectiveness. While it may have served to “make examples” of unwitting parents and college students, did it really make any headway in stopping large-scale piracy? Ask the RIAA or MPAA how the fight goes ten years later.

Before Congress passes COICA, let’s be sure we’re attacking the core problem instead of passing more ineffective legislation with a beneficial-sounding name.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 09 February 2011 18:10
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