Opposing more speech suppression in the name of copyrights

I just sent the following letter to my Senators:

I am writing to oppose S.3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. I believe that the real purpose of this act—like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act before it—has a more sinister hidden purpose.

It has never been found that file-sharing sites harm the profits of content makers. In fact, studies show just the opposite: by increasing awareness of their intellectual property, they have sold far more content than they otherwise would have. The results of these studies are so consistent, and so easily accessible, that it is laughable to think that the media corporations are unaware of them. All of their lobbying to protect themselves from these “pirates” is disingenuous.

The internet is free. On the internet, we have true liberty where all are equal. A rock band recording in a living room, an independent filmmaker with a home studio, and an amateur journalist all are on the same equal footing with the manufactured and controlled output of big media corporations. This is what they are really seeking to suppress, since file sharing allows these smaller, independent players to gain attention for their product.

With the DMCA, the first mp3.com was shut down, even though it required you to have a physical copy of the CD containing the music you subscribed to. They shut down programmers who were trying to make a DVD player for Linux (instead of paying the corporations for the means of viewing content they had legally purchased). Programmers were even arrested for trying to make ebooks accessible to the blind.

On YouTube, DMCA abuse is a serious problem. If someone posts a video opposing something you believe, or criticizing you or your agenda, simply file a DMCA claim, and without providing even the first shred of proof, the video is taken down. Countless videos have been lost, and even entire channels banned because of action taken against videos that had no infringing content, because of a dishonest few.

This bill would expand this to entire web domains. Under this bill, like the DMCA before it, just the claim of infringement–again no evidence required–will result in not only the removal of infringing content, but the entire domain as well. Not merely affecting the individual who allegedly infringed a copyright, not merely remove the alleged infringing content, the action is against the entire domain–meaning the entire website, and any other websites sharing that domain, are rendered completely inaccessible. People will not only be prevented from accessing the alleged (but not proved) infringing content, but also the legitimate content of independent providers for whom this is the only real means of competing against the big corporations. All of this, without the Attorney General so much as even filing an action. The site is declared guilty until proven innocent. This is mercantilism at its worst, the very thing our forefathers rebelled against when they dumped British tea into Boston Harbor.

Even worse, this bill has chilling ramifications for freedom of speech. An entire website can be shut down by an unproved claim; what is to stop abuse from happening all over the internet? This bill has, so far, been suppressed from appearing on the GPO’s website; I was able to read it because someone posted it to scribd.com, where users can post documents. This site is potentially vulnerable to the ramifications of this act. Imagine if people in Congress authoring such a bill in the future could take action against this site, or WikiLeaks, or any other such site just because they claim there’s infringing material somewhere on the site. This would deny everyone the benefit of all of the content on the site–including important, time-sensitive information like this.

Even if some content can be shown to infringe a copyright, that can be no justification for the wholesale denial of speech. As John Perry Barlow said about the internet more than a decade ago, “We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.”


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