PROTECT IP, or when little Johnny became a criminal

government censorship crop 100x68 PROTECT IP, or when little Johnny became a criminalSo little Johnny is a budding artist, someone who loves to sing along with his favorite songs.  He can do a bit better than carrying a tune in a bucket, as the old cliche states, so you’ve decided to make a video of him singing one of his favorite songs.  It worked for that other kid, so why not little Johnny?  You make your video and post it up on YouTube, posting the link on all of your social services.  Twenty of your closest friends view the video and post positive comments.  Your son has talent!

One morning you hear a knock at your door.  It’s the police.  It seems your little video of Johnny has violated the PROTECT IP Act and the copyright owner of the song that he sang in the video has filed papers with the court.  You’re going to jail – for five years!  You’ve just been sucker punched by the MPAA, the RIAA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce along with your very own Federal Government.

It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?  It could become true if the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (S.968) is ever voted into law.

The Act would allow the Department of Justice to request a court order requiring search engines, service providers, payment processors and ad services to “censor” contact with a site that has been deemed as infringing on a copyrighted work.  Search engines would be required to remove the site from their indexes.  The Act goes one step further and actually allows for the private individual or company to also seek the same court order, though they would be limited to requesting censorship from ad networks and payment processors only.

The Act does have safeguard provisions, but only after the court order has been issued and all required entities have censored the content.  What type of safeguard is this when the damage has already been done?

Of course there is steep opposition to this Act.  Companies such as Yahoo, Google, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, the Consumer Electronics Association and the Net Coalition are agressively opposing the Act.

Proponents of the Act are the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA), the RIAA and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Central to the Act’s ability to censor supposed infringing sites is DNS “blacklisting” which requires changes to the way the Domain Name System works.  DNS is like a global telephone book linking domain names to IP addresses.  The Act would require DNS filters to be put into place so that sites could be easily blocked or routed to other destinations.  A group of law professors, 90 of them and counting, is heatedly opposed to the Act, specifically the DNS changes.

They have stated that the required changes are in direct contradiction with the use of DNSSEC, which has been embraced by the U.S. Government and private industry as a key part of a wider cyber-security strategy.  DNSSEC is a method of digitally signing DNS data to assure its validity.  Another counter to the Act is the mere fact that users will find ways to use unfiltered DNS servers, thus destroying the universal nature of DNS and fragmenting the system.  Google’s Eric Schmidt has stated:  “If there is a law that requires DNSs, to do X and it’s passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president of the United States and we disagree with it then we would still fight it”.

Unless this issue is brought to the forefront for everyone, such as what Demand Progress has been doing, we could find ourselves with a censored Internet that would be the envy of the Chinese Government.  I personally would like to encourage you to check out the Demand Progress site and sign the petition.  Tell your government officials that the Internet must stay an open and free society where information exchange is key.  Otherwise we’ll all find ourselves in an Internet wasteland wishing we had the less draconian rules of Chinese censorship.


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