PROTECT IP Would Gut Parts Of The DMCA's Safe Harbors [Updated]
from the don't-let-that-happen dept
We’ve been covering the newly released “son of COICA” censorship bill, now renamed the PROTECT IP Act, this week, breaking the news of the summary version of the law as well as posting the full text. However, as people dig deeper into the text, it looks worse and worse. In fact, I have to apologize, because I think I got fooled by the summary text into believing the actual text of the bill wasn’t as bad as it turns out to be.
Sherwin Siy, over at Public Knowledge, points out that the part that we’d been highlighting as applying to “search engines” actually is not about just search engines, but applies extremely broadly to “interactive computer services,” a phrase that the courts have treated quite broadly for years. Update: Apparently the “interactive computer service” phrase was in a draft of the bill, but then was switched out for “information location tool” in the final version. However, there are still serious concerns about the loss of DMCA safe harbor provisions…
The real issue here is that it seems to eliminate some of the important safe harbors provided by the DMCA. It kind of makes you wonder if that was the purpose of this bill all along. The entertainment industry has been whining for a while about how the DMCA’s safe harbors need to go, and have test marketed that line of argument a few times, only to see major push-back. It’s beginning to look like they decided to use the PROTECT IP Act to undo the DMCA’s safe harbors with a bit of misdirection. First, they got people to focus on the issues from COICA (seizing sites, etc.) and then with the “summary” they turned the debate into it being about search engines, rather than all interactive service providers.
Updated: To clarify with the update above, the target isn’t quite as broad due to the last minute change in the phrasing, but there’s still a significant threat to the DMCA safe harbors. That’s because while the new act says that it shouldn’t impact the DMCA, the actual wording of the bill suggests otherwise. Specifically, the bill notes that “nothing in this Act” and “no order issued” can be used as evidence to knock out a safe harbor, but that leaves a massive loophole: allegations about the sites can still be used as evidence for “red flag” violations under the DMCA. So, for example, a rightsholder could use the PROTECT IP Act to make allegations against a site, and then claim that service providers now have red flag knowledge. It wouldn’t be exempted because the Act only exempts actual court orders or the Act itself… the allegations are not exempted, and could be claimed as a sign of infringement, upon which service providers would be expected to act.
That makes this law significantly worse than COICA. It’s a full on attack on the basic proper application of liability, and seeks to impose liability on third parties where it doesn’t belong.