To be fair, it may have been Bono who first made the connection explicit
, but others are beginning to notice that there are some worrisome parallels between what is being pushed via ACTA and other methods and ongoing internet censorship in China. The latest, as pointed out by the EFF
, is writer Rebecca MacKinnon, who walks you through the way in which Chinese censorship is based on the same faulty principle as ACTA's push for secondary liability
Let's take a step back to explain this. We've discussed, in the past, that the way China operates its "Great Firewall" is not by explicitly banning anything. Instead, it simply puts liability
on third parties such as ISPs and says they'll take the blame
and face the consequences for any "bad stuff" that is allowed through to Chinese users. As MacKinnon notes, this is really "intermediary liability," or (obviously enough) putting the liability for actions on an intermediary to force them to try to curb the behavior of end users. In this way, the Chinese government can claim
that it doesn't censor the internet and there's no such thing as a "Great Firewall," because it doesn't exist as a single thing. It's just that the government will punish ISPs who don't block "bad stuff."
But this "intermediary liability" is a big deal, because under any common sense
approach to things, you should never blame an third party/intermediary for the actions of end users. And yet, that's exactly what the entertainment industry has been pushing. One of the key components
being pushed for the internet section of ACTA is the idea of expanding "secondary liability" or "contributory copyright infringement" or whatever they want to call it. In reality, it's the same intermediary liability that China uses to have ISPs censor content. The idea is that if you put the liability for file sharing on ISPs, then they
will be forced to figure out ways to stop it -- just like ISPs in China are forced to create their own censorship campaigns.
And, of course, this isn't even hypothetical. We've got some real world examples. That's because much of the early language in ACTA was modeled on the "free trade" agreement
that the US pressured South Korea into signing. That included such intermediary liability for ISPs when it came to copyright infringement, and guess what happened? First, the country felt it needed to start kicking people off the internet
based on a "three strikes" plan, just to satisfy the treaty. Then service providers quickly started banning all sorts of activities, including any music uploads
and many video uploads
. After all, it's not worth it for the service providers to be liable, so they block the ability to upload all sorts of content. And, of course, with such liability there, others went even further, with some service providers even banning advertisements
for any kind of website that could allow copyright infringement, because of the fear that, via such intermediary liability, they may get blamed just for allowing an advertisement
that pointed to a site that could be used for copyright infringement.
When you look at the details, it's incredibly similar to the way in which China crafted its Great Firewall. Impose such secondary liability that puts the responsibility on a third party, and and watch those third parties basically lock down all sorts of additional things
, just to be safe. Of course, the old school entertainment industry doesn't mind, because preventing you from communicating isn't their problem. They don't see the internet as a communications platform anyway. They're hoping it's the next broadcast medium, and clearing the decks via
a Great Firewall
an intermediary liability system works right into those plans. The more you look at the details, the more it looks like the entertainment industry is doing everything possible to encircle the internet
to make it appear more like a broadcast entertainment medium, rather than a communications medium.