Tim Berners-Lee Comes Out Against COICA Censorship Bill; Shouldn't You?

from the speak-up dept

We’ve already discussed what a dreadful bill the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act,” (COICA) bill would be. It’s an effort to censor the internet without due process. As we recently discussed, similar laws in the past would have banned pretty much every new entertainment technology in the past century.

And yet… this bill has a lot of political clout behind it and it’s moving fast (even as the bill’s main sponsors are speaking out against censorship in other countries, they support it at home). Unfortunately, there really hasn’t been that much open discussion about the bill. Supporters seem to think it’s a foregone conclusion that it will pass, and it’s moving quickly (it’s schedule for a vote in committee this week). Senators who are supporting the bill have claimed that they’ve heard no objections to the bill, despite the widespread discussions online about how problematic it is.

As it moves forward, some people, who recognize the problems with it, are speaking out. The EFF, for example, is looking for techies who have been involved in building the original internet’s infrastructure to sign onto a protest letter. Separately, as part of an effort to get people to sign a petition against COICA, World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee has spoken out against COICA:

“We all use the web now for all kinds of parts our lives, some trivial, some critical to our life as part of a social world,” says Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the Web. “In the spirit going back to Magna Carta, we require a principle that: No person or organization shall be deprived of their ability to connect to others at will without due process of law, with the presumption of innocence until found guilty. Neither governments nor corporations should be allowed to use disconnection from the Internet as a way of arbitrarily furthering their own aims.”

I’m never sure how effective online petitions are, but no matter what, it’s important to get the word out about this bill. We should not stand for censorship in the US. Apparently over 20,000 people signed the petition in the first day it was available, and it would be great to get a lot more involved. This is bad and supremely dangerous legislation that has been fast-tracked, much to the delight of those who don’t realize how destructive it would be.

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Comments on “Tim Berners-Lee Comes Out Against COICA Censorship Bill; Shouldn't You?”

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52 Comments
The Rust Belt (profile) says:

They are not even trying to look competent

“Senators who are supporting the bill have claimed that they’ve heard no objections to the bill”

Which means they have not a slightest idea about the way the medium they propose to regulate works. This is not unlike other politicians but being so blatant makes me wonder how foolish these guys can appear without feeling embarrassed.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: You already have your answer...

“boy do I love how politicians aren’t held accountable because the public at large doesn’t even pay attention most of the time, and when they do pay attention the politicians don’t listen.”

Think about it. In all reality, is there any real connection between voters and politicians anymore? The only one I can think of is direct voting. Beyond that, they have people that answer mail for them, they certainly don’t take phone calls, and there is a thick, goopy layer of mass media between us and them.

They talk, media reports (with debatable accuracy), and that’s how we get our information. It’s a system built for failure….

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 You already have your answer...

For the system itself, actually. They’ve managed to come up with a way to take a democracy/republic and alter it through layers just enough that it keeps its look and feel but has changed so drastically that it isn’t the same.

We still vote, but we do so with information filtered for us. We still choose what to buy, but we do it with just enough nudging through regulation that we aren’t REALLY choosing anymore. We still appear free, but we’ve had enough important liberty curtailed that we really aren’t anymore.

It looks like democracy, but it isn’t….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: You already have your answer...

I think that can be fixed, most people don’t pay attention because they don’t see it.

Make them see it and you will see people engaging.

I wish we had a GPL electron microscope for politics
http://www.chemhacker.com/2010/09/chemhackerstm-0-1/

Something tracking politicians, the way they vote, the laws they put forth etc.

That would be a really eye opener to many, but it has to have nice graphics and an easy interface, the data is the easy part because it is all public domain and can be collect by crowdsourcing it.

Anonymous Coward says:

It still amazes me that you Americans (or as yesterday’s AC will prefer, United States of Americans) are still convinced that you live in a democracy. That ended with the Patriot Act. You now live in a police controlled oligarchy with a puppet prime minister. It looks like part of the job of your judges and congress people today is finding ways to circumvent your constitution (which used to be one of the greatest, as far as freedom goes).

ComputerAddict (profile) says:

I call Bull Shit

Being from Vermont, I emailed Leahy the day Techdirt covered the introduction of COICA,

I’m pretty sure the MPAA wrote the response:

Thank you for contacting me about the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act. I appreciate hearing from you.

The growth of the digital marketplace is extraordinary and it gives creators and producers new opportunities to reach consumers, but it also brings with it the perils of piracy and counterfeiting. The increased usage and accessibility of the Internet has transformed it into the new Main Street. Internet purchases have become so commonplace that consumers are less wary of online shopping and therefore more easily victimized by online products that are unsafe, or have health, safety or other quality concerns when they are counterfeit. Each year, online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods cost the American economy billions of dollars. This is unacceptable in any economic climate, but it is devastating today.

On September 20, I introduced the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, legislation that will provide the Department of Justice with an important tool to crack down on websites that are primarily dedicated to online infringement. This legislation allows the Department to file a civil action against a domain name that provides access to the infringing website, and to seek an order from a court that would allow the Attorney General to suspend the infringing domain name. This is an important tool that will empower the government to go after the worst examples of online infringement, websites that often appear legitimate to American consumers, but contain pirated content or sell counterfeit goods that are of lower quality or might be unsafe.

It is important to note that this legislation does not empower corporations to shut-down websites, nor does it target Internet users for any activities that they may engage in. It also does not target mainstream websites that may incidentally engage in infringement. This legislation simply grants the government the ability to go after the most egregious examples of websites that are attempting to deceive American consumers. This bill is currently pending before the Judiciary Committee, where I serve as Chairman.

Thank you again for contacting me. Please keep in touch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I call Bull Shit

I call it that too.

“Each year, online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods cost the American economy billions of dollars. This is unacceptable in any economic climate, but it is devastating today.”

He offers no data and we are supposed to take it on faith?

I write it back pointing out that not only piracy is not counterfeiting it is also not shown in any serious study to cause “harm” and that it may even contribute to the sustainability of the industries that depend on copyright.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: I call Bull Shit

It is important to note that this legislation does not empower corporations to shut-down websites, nor does it target Internet users for any activities that they may engage in. It also does not target mainstream websites that may incidentally engage in infringement. This legislation simply grants the government the ability to go after the most egregious examples of websites that are attempting to deceive American consumers.

Yeah right

just like RIPA in the UK – which was originally supposed to be about terrorism but ended up being used by local councils to enforce school catchment areas.

The fact is that once a piece of legislation is on the books it will inevitably bee used in the most extreme and petty way that the wording allows – and beyond that if they can get away with it.

BearGriz72 (profile) says:

Re: Re: I call Bull Shit

I had the same thought…

On I side note I signed the Demand Progress petition to “Stop the Internet Blacklist” Yesterday. After yoiu sign you are requested to Call the office of Sen. Patrick Leahy (the sponsor of the bill) at (202) 224-4242 “Hollywood has been bombarding Washington with calls in favor of the bill, but they haven’t heard from anyone who’s against it

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is also taking action on their Action Center with a campaign to “Tell your Senator to reject the entertainment industry’s outrageous Internet censorship bill that would blacklist websites, interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), and legitimize unilateral Internet censorship worldwide.” If you live in the United States you can send a letter to your states Senators to reject S. 3804, or COICA, the Internet censorship bill.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I call Bull Shit

“Each year, online piracy and the sale of counterfeit goods cost the American economy billions of dollars. This is unacceptable in any economic climate, but it is devastating today.”

Dear representative,

Your statments about the ills of piracy seems to be corroborated only by your belief in them, while even the GAO found no direct correlation and in fact couldn’t find the direct link with piracy and harm others who have studied those things have come to the conclusion that the harms are small and that it even may actually help and have a positive net effect.

But those are hard to discuss the point being that without hard evidence there is no fair conclusions one can come to, but we can look at the earnings of the people in those industries and one will be hard pressed to find a contraction in them, so please be so kind and explain to us again were are those harms that need such extreme measures?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I call Bull Shit

Who gets to decide what it is egregious or not?
What happens with false positives and false accusations do those people have venues to redress their grievances?

I would write him asking those questions.

And to be a smart ass I would point out that the legislation just empowers the corporations representatives in congress you know those who actually took money from them.

robin (profile) says:

Re: I call Bull Shit

fellow vermonter here. ditto, except i was not “graced” with a reply.

also contacted bernie, hopelessly out there, but elected nonetheless.

note the cluelessness of patrick’s reply:

This legislation allows the Department to file a civil action against a domain name that provides access to the infringing website, and to seek an order from a court that would allow the Attorney General to suspend the infringing domain name.

which accomplishes nothing except creating a mccarthy-era blacklist of words. anyone who wants to can go directly to 194.71.107.15 :).

i.e. a naked attack on the dns system and an attempt to censor it.

Internet purchases have become so commonplace that consumers are less wary of online shopping and therefore more easily victimized by online products that are unsafe, or have health, safety or other quality concerns when they are counterfeit.

somebody, think of the children!!!

Christopher Gizzi (profile) says:

Not Too Worried

I’m only a little concerned about this bill.

First, the whole three branches of government thing is supposed to protect us from this. It might pass but at some point, the SCOTUS or some other court will find this a violation of the 1st Amendment.

Second, once information is out there… its out there. There’s no going back. You take down one site for content you don’t like, that same content gets posted somewhere else again and again. And the Streisand effect will bring that content into the spotlight.

Third, I think it would be hard to implement and enforce. I know that other countries have filtering and content blocking but it doesn’t work and they get that limited filtering because they have a small number of ISPs providing service. The US has dozens of large and small ISPs; there are alternate DNS servers (outside of the US) that people can choose from. You can block some but not all.

Fourth, eventually, this will get out of hand. The temptation to filter everything will become too great to ignore. Also, people will get overzealous and block whole IP ranges and filter too much of the net. People and the companies that rely on those services will become vocal and the problems with this bill will become obvious.

Maybe I’m too optimistic but I’m not worried about this bill that much. I still oppose it and hope it doesn’t pass. But the reality is that it won’t be very effective.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not Too Worried

I partly agree, but you raise (indirectly) an important issue here. Mike always looks for contrasting evidence here in Techdirt, and we actually do have the great wall of China and Iran as examples of countries trying similar measures. Did it actually work for them? Meaning, is the average user now more educated on how to bypass these absurd blocks?

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Not Too Worried

“Maybe I’m too optimistic but I’m not worried about this bill that much. I still oppose it and hope it doesn’t pass. But the reality is that it won’t be very effective.”

Agreed and it will cause an evolution in software that will make it harder to stop infringement. It will also cause far more encryption to be used. All in all its a good thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not Too Worried

No, it is a bad thing. Even if everyone somehow managed to evade the law, this corrodes the respect for the law – even the good ones. But not all people would manage to evade the law, and thus some would suffer. It would also put a chilling effect on the development of new technologies and even of the culture, and the work needed to evade it would be better spent elsewhere.

Hephaestus (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not Too Worried

“No, it is a bad thing.”

I disagree, we need for the copyright mixmalists to keep pushing for the IP system to collapse in on itself. That is the only way we are going to get copyright and patents back on track. We need people to be abused

“But not all people would manage to evade the law, and thus some would suffer.”

They become the poster children. The people to rally around. We need for the door of an old lady to be broken down with a no knock warrant because her VOIP phone or printer was “accused” of downloading movies. We need three strike to be implemented and a great wrong to come of it.

“Even if everyone somehow managed to evade the law, this corrodes the respect for the law – even the good ones.”

Truthfully there are no good laws being created today. It is all about money and building monopolies. That also needs to change. With every bad law, with every abuse of the system we come a little closer to things swinging back the other way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Not Too Worried

What.

I’m sorry, but I do not believe the utopia justifies the means.

Think why we want “to get copyright and patents back on track”. We want it to make people’s lives better. Wanting people’s lives to become worse to fix copyright/patents/etc is contradicting the end result. Fixing copyright/patents/etc is the means, not the end.

And it is not “the only way”, and not even the most effective way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Not Too Worried

It really doesn’t matter what we think, those laws will be approved and will affect people, history shows the pattern that keep repeating itself over and over again.

You may not like it, it may not be the best way to do it, but it will happen like it happened before and those laws will collapse with time and will be reborn, is just there are 2 groups that are worlds apart in terms of interests.

Is good that some people are fighting against, because when the time comes these are the people the major groups will turn to for guidance and help, but it won’t stop the gears that have already started to turn, we will see a major time of contraction of rights and freedoms and a revolt and a expansion of rights and freedoms, it happens every time, every 50 years or so.

Christopher Gizzi (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Not Too Worried

Its hard to respect a law that contradicts the 1st Amendment and goes against our very nature. If anyone really cared about “respect for the law” they wouldn’t make ridiculous laws that cause people to lose respect for it. And no one is going to start assaulting random people on the street because they don’t want to be censored and ignore content filters.

That “reasoning” is just silly and I question your “logic.”

Sorry.

jc (profile) says:

Re: Not Too Worried

I think the one thing you might be overlooking is the US’s level of control over the internet. Because ICANN is still under US authority this type of a bill could easily be a stepping stone to an approval based registration process for domains.

In other words, first pass the part where you can shutdown a domain. Then pass the part where can easily find the owner of any domain so that you can go after them personally.

Crosbie Fitch (profile) says:

Sounds fancy, but it's ethically flawed

Why don’t we translate it into more familiar terms?

“No person shall be deprived of their freedom of speech without due process of law, with the presumption of innocence until found guilty”

And then we can deduce that:

“A person may be deprived of their freedom of speech given due process of law, with the presumption of innocence until found guilty”

And we could reconcile that with the US 1st amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So here we have TBL suggesting that as long as due process occurs, it’s perfectly fine for governments to make laws requiring their citizens to be disconnected from the Internet.

Anyone who endorses TBL’s proposition is therefore supporting (consenting in principle to) laws that disconnect them.

Pretty tragic if you ask me.

Anonymous Coward says:

write your congressmen, folks. if enough constituents talk, they will listen. it might take one constituent letter for every dollar of campaign contributions from big money, but that just means we have a lot of letters to send. email, snail mail, phone calls, even try to get scheduled for an in-person meeting, if you can. we have to remind them that it’s their job to listen to US, and we can only do that by talking to them.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

1984 creeps closer every day

Sorry folks but these a**holes will do as they wish and do not care about citizens anymore. A marine buddy said it will take ppl starving to make change happen, real change not change that Barry Sorento promised. Until then we will all sit behind our little computers and whine about it instead of marching in Washington. Generally, ppl dont give a shit anymore. Sickening.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Some over political stuff to mull over

Fox primary: complicated, contractual – Jonathan Martin and Keach Hagey – POLITICO.com: “With Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee all making moves indicating they may run for president, their common employer is facing a question that hasn’t been asked before: How does a news organization cover White House hopefuls when so many are on the payroll?”

The Left Right Paradigm is Over: Its You vs. Corporations | The Big Picture: “The new dynamic, however, has moved past the old Left Right paradigm. We now live in an era defined by increasing Corporate influence and authority over the individual. These two “interest groups” – I can barely suppress snorting derisively over that phrase – have been on a headlong collision course for decades, which came to a head with the financial collapse and bailouts. Where there is massive concentrations of wealth and influence, there will be abuse of power. The Individual has been supplanted in the political process nearly entirely by corporate money, legislative influence, campaign contributions, even free speech rights.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Throw The Bums Out

Come on Americans. You are being widely betrayed by your politicians. Get the corrupt ones named and shamed, then throw them out. Your real enemy is not the corrupt politicians, but the brainless sheeple who vote them in. Incumbents stay in power in USA for decades, being repeatedly voted in. That is an open invitation for corruption.

Get yourself some more political parties. The Republican-Democrat duopoly is not working.

What you need is a nice fair preferential voting system, like we have in Australia, not your inherently unfair first-past-the-post system.

David Cox (user link) says:

In response to "Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act" (COICA

In response to “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act” (COICA)

Our company MiMTiD Corp., provides copyright infringement protection services to a diverse group of media companies in the US. Our sister company Blues Destiny Records has sued Google, Bing and Rapidshare in the U.S. for repeated infringement of that Company’s works. We send out thousands of conforming infringement notices on behalf of our customers to hundreds of infringing companies including Google and Bing. Many of the sites that would be the target of this new legislation, (e.g. Rapidshare and Hotfile) have only recently began to respond at all to these notices. We surmise that this is a direct result of the recent activities of Congress and the Department of Justice.

Google and most search engines, who largely ignore notices, though their ad syndication networks provide the framework and financing for widespread, commercial infringing activities globally. 60% of the infringing activity noticed on our system is to sites that are ad sharing partners with Google and other search engines. Google and others are systematically monetizing infringed content by efficiently locating the infringed content and steering potential consumers through search results to the location where the infringed content can be obtained. And then monetizing, through advertising, all of the traffic that is generated from this loop of activity. Most of these sites provide no functioning DMCA agent access and do not respond to notices. When a notice is sent to Google and Bing to remove an infringing link to these sites, they are largely ignored or not processed for weeks or months.

This is due to the confluence three factors:

a. The Construct of the DMCA as it relates to Search Engine Safe Harbor. The term “expeditiously” has no affirmative legal meaning or reliable precedent.

b. The inability of a rights holder to bring a “civil action for infringement” until receipt of the copyright certificate is in hand under 411a.

c. The two years it takes for the copyright office to process a certificate.

If Congress would focus on better articulating a.and b., it is our opinion that favorable, systemic behavioral change would result.

1. The search engines would no longer be able to formulate defenses based on the ambiguous ruling across the 11th and 5th Circuits related to 411a.

2. With search engine owned ad networks being principal conduit of monetization of global infringing activity, the result of very minor changes to 411a would afford victims broader access to perfected rights under U.S. Copyright Law.

3. Rights holders would be able to effectively prosecute the search engine’s refusal to act expeditiously concerning the removal of infringed links at the very point of consumer access if the term expeditiously is precisely defined.

It is our opinion that a modification of search engine response to infringement notices would result due the imminent risks of the loss of Safe Harbor in the cases of inaction without the buffer of judicial ambiguity as stated above.

Ultimately, the ability for infringing sites to monetize traffic would diminish resulting in a decrease of global infringement and be a benefit to the public and rights holders, globally.

It is our opinion that the DMCA should work. Congress could more effectively legislate meaningful, less controversial change if it would close the loophole enabling the search engines to ignore notices by addressing the deficiencies of 411a.

Sincerely,

David Wallace Cox
Chairman
MiMTiD Corp.

Excerpt from the U.S. Copyright Act

§ 411. Registration and civil infringement actions
(a) Except for an action brought for a violation of the rights of the author under section 106A(a), and subject to the provisions of subsection (b),no civil action for infringement of the copyright in any United States work shall be instituted until preregistration or registration of the copyright claim has been made in accordance with this title. In any case, however, where the deposit, application, and fee required for registration have been delivered to the Copyright Office in proper form and registration has been refused, the applicant is entitled to institute a civil action for infringement if notice thereof, with a copy of the complaint, is served on the Register of Copyrights. The Register may, at his or her option, become a party to the action with respect to the issue of registrability of the copyright claim by entering an appearance within sixty days after such service, but the Register’s failure to become a party shall not deprive the court of jurisdiction to determine that issue.

Martin LaBelle (profile) says:

Lets be very cautious!

We don’t want people to be able to take something that you worked hard on, and sell it for their own profit; or sabotage your ability to profit from your own work.

I’m sure we all agree on that. But there comes a point at which we have to be reasonable. We cannot infringe upon far more important rights to protect profit.

Anyone want to join me? I plan on talking to random strangers about the threat poised by Internet regulation and censorship at the @rally4sanity on 30 OCT 2010 in Washington.

John Paul Jones says:

You people are the worst.

Musicians and the people that help them make music have to eat and pay rent too. Do you go to your job and expect to work for free?

You’re not fooling anybody with this censorship whining. You just want to continue to be able to take someone else’s work for free and not have to worry about getting busted.

YOU’RE the greedy pigs.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I go to my job, get paid for doing my job, and don’t expect to be paid whenever anyone makes use of anything of value I did at my job until I’m dead.

What kind of job do you do?

An engineer, for example, may help to design a product. He may get paid once for that effort, but the company benefits from that design over and over again by selling multiple copies of the product.

I know that when I did market research for hire, I was paid for my hourly time, but then the company sold multiple copies of the report, so they got paid each time they sold another copy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Evolution of the Internet

As sad as it is, this law will undoubtedly effect normal peoples usage of the internet far more than anyone that uses it for piracy. It will force yet another evolution in the way people who want pirated goods find them. Bulletin Board Servers(BBS) evolved into FTP sites and mIRC trading, when that came under fire for centralized file sharing BitTorrent was born. While these mediums and technologies aren’t intended for this purpose initially(usually), they make it possible for it to happen in more forms than laws can be written to cover.

While it will probably cause a rant, I’ll throw it out there anyway: Media companies have actually benefited from piracy in some ways. Music downloading was illegal in any form not too long ago *cough* Napster *Cough*, but somehow it became a legitimate way to get their product to more people who only wanted to pay for a single song and not a whole CD. It’s the same with software companies going to digital downloads of their products. Piracy is Piracy any way you look at it, but it has also brought new technologies and services with it.

Whether you want to differentiate between the person who sells pirated goods and the person who puts them to personal use then deletes it or archives it due to not being able to afford the products is your choice. But I’ll bet a far greater percentage of people who use the internet are guilty in some form or another of obtaining products illegally, whether knowingly or not.

I don’t think this is the way to go about solving the media companies perceived problems of piracy, but I do think it will end up biting them in the ass and hurting more than helping their cause when it effects innocent people.

Just my 2 cents, take it or leave it it your choice for now.

That is, until we start getting censored.

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