Florida Legislators Introduce Bill That Would Strip Certain Site Owners Of Their Anonymity

from the baby-SOPA dept

A few Florida legislators are looking to do some serious damage to both free speech and the internet.

This week, the Florida state legislature is considering a bill that would make it illegal to run any website or service anonymously, if the site fits a vague category of “disseminat[ing]” “commercial” recordings or videos—even the site owner’s own work. Outlawing anonymous speech raises a serious First Amendment problem, and laws like this one have been abused by police and the entertainment industry.

The bill (Senate and House versions) seems to be catering directly to the entertainment industry and could give local law enforcement City of London Police-esque powers to act as de facto copyright cops. And its potential stripping of anonymity not only requires disclosure to law enforcement, but everyone else on the web.

A person who owns or operates a website or online service dealing in substantial part in the electronic dissemination of commercial recordings or audiovisual works, directly or indirectly, to consumers in this state shall clearly and conspicuously disclose his or her true and correct name, physical address, and telephone number or e-mail address on his or her website or online service in a location readily accessible to a consumer using or visiting the website or online service.

Do-it-yourself doxxing! What could possibly go wrong? Handing over your personal information to complete strangers always works out so well. The bill seems only concerned with giving rights holders easier access to potential infringers (still problematic), completely ignoring the unintended consequences of forcing certain site owners to hand out their personal information proactively, rather than only by law enforcement subpoena or court order.

On top of that, there’s the vagueness of the language. “Directly or indirectly” can mean a lot of things — like links to alleged infringement elsewhere on the web. And it would potentially force any number of site owners worldwide to give up their anonymity. The bill isn’t limited to sites/site owners residing in Florida. All it says is “electronic dissemination… to consumers in this state.” If a website can be accessed from Florida, it conceivably falls under the jurisdiction of this proposed law.

This would give the Grady “Showboat” Judds of Florida law enforcement all the reason they need to send ad hoc anti-piracy task forces all over the US to shut down infringing sites. Even if the damage was solely confined to Florida, it would still be a bad idea.

Similar “true name and address” laws in other states have been used to justify police raids on music studios. In 2007, a Georgia police SWAT team (with RIAA employees in tow) raided the studio of DJ Drama and DJ Cannon, makers of influential “mixtapes” that record labels used to promote their artists. The police arrested the DJs and confiscated their CDs and equipment. Their justification wasn’t copyright law (which is a federal law) but a more limited version of the same law Florida is considering, one that applies only to physical goods. If Florida expands on Georgia’s law by including websites, we could see similar police raids against music blogs or other avenues of online speech. And the works on the site might even be in the public domain, as long as some “owner, assignee, authorized agent, or licensee”—perhaps a broadcaster—complains.

If there is a bright side to this proposed law, it’s that it doesn’t gut Section 230 protections and contains the smallest of nods towards Fair Use. But that’s it. Otherwise, it’s a mess — a bill designed to expedite the pursuit of infringers at the expense of free speech and online anonymity.

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Comments on “Florida Legislators Introduce Bill That Would Strip Certain Site Owners Of Their Anonymity”

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48 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Minor change:

a bill designed to expedite the pursuit of everyone but actual infringers at the expense of free speech and online anonymity.

Like pretty much any other ‘anti-piracy’ bill/law, this will affect everyone but the actual pirates. Pirates are already breaking one law, why would they care about doing so for another? They’ll either ignore the law completely, or simply put in some bogus contact information(might I suggest the home address and phone numbers for the idiots proposing this law?).

Meanwhile, with how vague the wording is(what qualifies as a ‘substantial part’? What about ‘commercial’? How about ‘directly or indirectly’?), lots of legitimate sites will be all but forced to put personal contact information on their sites, but hey, I’m sure that couldn’t possibly lead to unpleasant results by people who may happen to disagree with the content on the site, or those who enjoy making the lives of others miserable. /s

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Minor change:

Every increase in cost of free speech reduces the number of people that can exercise their right to free speech.`Also, having to post contact information on the site make it easier to automate the sending of ‘legal’ threats, which is a fairly effective censorship mechanism.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Minor change:

I absolutely agree. I think this bill is a terrible idea. I’m just saying that incorporating to get that much of a shield is not a very high bar.

I’m not sure if even that much is necessary, though. It seems that it would be possible to use a PO Box and answering service for this purpose even if you don’t incorporate. The cost of the box + service would run you around $10/mo.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Minor change:

form your own corporation and give a PO Box and answering service or standalone voicemail number as contact information.

It may be easy, but it is not legally sufficient. You have to give at least a street address for your registered agent, who may be CT Registered Agent Corporation'' orCorporation Services Company”. Those are two of the biggest here, and probably they are to be found in other states as well.

The registered agent companies just send you the documents when they get served, so you and they can be anywhere. Your business mailing address (the P.O. box) is probably at least close enough to where you really are to give some help if we need to find you. There are some requirements with these boxes as well, like giving your real address on the PO box form.

Anonymous Coward says:

the USA has been doing it’s best to remove free speech and privacy for quite a while now. the politicians who are always at the front either are in the pockets of the entertainment industries or simply think that only they should have/deserve to have any freedom and privacy, and if it violates any part of what the USA was founded on, then so be it. the real shame is that all these various tries are to try to protect an industry that lives on make believe. what a shame that those who are supposedly looking after the interests of the people, hence the positions they hold, are actually only interested in turning the USA into a giant corporation where no one other than those ‘OKd’ by that corporation have any rights at all! in other words, turning the country into a replica of what millions died to prevent from happening 70 years ago!

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Also, what is "commerical"?

Given that the copyright industry defines “commercial” to be so ludicrously broad that it counts most noncommercial sites as commercial, this is not a minor question.

Personally, my attitude is “screw Florida”. I don’t live or do business there, so I feel perfectly content in ignoring their stupid laws. If this ever comes around to cause me trouble, I’ll just geoblock Florida and suggest that Floridians use a redirection service to continue to get to my sites.

coward (anon) says:

Re: Also, what is "commerical"?

Why wait until the cops come a-knocking. Just geoblock Florida now. I lived in Florida for 5 years and it is a strange state. The only one I know of that has a constitution amendment requiring the state to build a high speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando AND a constitutional amendment prohibiting the state from ever building a high speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando. Schizo much?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Also, what is "commerical"?

I’ll just geoblock Florida and suggest that Floridians use a redirection service to continue to get to my sites.

You have identifies the reason that Forida will consider all sires as coming under Florida law, the can be reached one way or another by Floridians. The geoblock will be taken as an admission ofguilt.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: For extra coverage, throw in Terms of Service too

Don’t just geoblock Florida. Add/amend Terms of Service stating that the site is not intended to serve Florida, that it has taken measures to prevent service to Florida, and that by using the site in any way you warrant that you are not causing it to provide service to Florida, whether directly or indirectly. Then anyone who accesses it from Florida has circumvented technical measures intended to effectively control access to a protected work, since the site content is obviously copyright by somebody.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 For extra coverage, throw in Terms of Service too

“Add/amend Terms of Service stating that the site is not intended to serve Florida”

That would probably be a lot safer, but I certainly won’t bother. In the first place, it would require actually having a ToS statement of some sort — which I make it a point of not doing.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Also, what is "commerical"?

“Guilt of trying to circumvent Florida law”

How can I be trying to circumvent Florida law if I am taking proactive steps to comply with Florida law by blocking access from Florida?

“if you tell people how to bypass the block.”

That’s a little squishier, but how I do it counts. If I do it in a way that is clearly indicative of the intention to serve Florida users, then yes, that would be trouble. If I do it in a way that simply educates people about the use of VPNs in general, then I would be on safer ground.

Anonymous Coward says:

“If a website can be accessed from Florida, it conceivably falls under the jurisdiction of this proposed law.

This would give the Grady “Showboat” Judds of Florida law enforcement all the reason they need to send ad hoc anti-piracy task forces all over the US to shut down infringing sites. Even if the damage was solely confined to Florida, it would still be a bad idea.”

Which will mean that any website hosted in every country will come under the jurisdiction of Florida and US law as long as a person in Florida can access the website. Wouldn’t surprise me if Hollywood start to file cases in Florida against The Pirate Bay and other websites in the world that is considered profiteering from piracy in the eyes of Hollywood.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: [Possible California Ptfs in Florida]

Wouldn’t surprise me if Hollywood start to file cases in Florida against The Pirate Bay and other websites in the world

It would not surprise me. However, at least a few of them will fight back, and there are some pleading problems for the folks. Especially in that other'' Hollywood, out in California.<br /><br />To sue someone from out of state, you have to plead the facts to bring them within the long-arm statute. The standard is not very high, <i>Zippo Mfg v. Zippo Dot Com</i>, <tt>952 F.Supp. 1119</tt>, but you do have to both have and plead the contacts with Florida. <i>International Shoe</i> and all that.<br /><br />I suspect that most of the CaliforniaHollywood” folks cannot even spell Florida, much less “minimum contacts”. And for that matter, even if California were not full of loose nuts, Tallahassee is. Ever notice how close it is to Chattahoochee? There is probably a reason for that proximity.

Our geniuses up there in Tally have probably entirely failed to consider how they might enforce such a requirement. I see some dormant commerce problems there, and no good way to distinguish a web site viewable in Florida from a clear channel radio station audible in Florida. Oh well, two more months and we can send them back to Chattahoochee for the next ten.

Anonymous Coward says:

Impressum

That’s called an Impressum, and already exists on other countries.

Of course, these Impressum laws all apply only to sites published by people who are under the jurisdiction of that country. Leave it to the USA to want its laws to apply even to individuals outside their jurisdiction. It’s no wonder the rest of the worlds gets annoyed at the USA. You’re not special, you’re just a bully.

Anonymous Coward says:

Germany

We have such a law here and it is kind of annoying but not as bad as you might think. At least it isn’t after some rulings that made clear which sites need what kind of information.

The bad part about a system like this is that people can sue you because you don’t have the correct information or it is too hidden or some other reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“If a website can be accessed from Florida, it conceivably falls under the jurisdiction of this proposed law.

Take that one step further. If a website can be accessed from (anywhere) USA then it falls under US law. Think about that. US law has seen fit to declare certain items and material illegal that is perfectly legal in other countries!

Can you see the enforcement issues? And that’s just in one direction. Turn that around and think of material that’s perfectly legal in the US but not in other countries. How’s that enforcement going to work? Hint: not very well.

kirsten burnett (user link) says:

no more freedom

it is little things like this that are absoutlty bringing down our society. Theses people are just being put up on a pedestal as our elected leaders and all they are doing is making life harder than it already is. Why is running website annonmously a concern to them…there are real issues at hand that our tax payer money could be directed towards.

Anonymous Coward says:

CFAA

As another commenter suggested, modify TOS to prohibit all access from Florida. Display TOS agreement to all new visitors and require agreement (checbox, submit, set cookie/session). When the prosecutors come knocking, counter sue for violation of the overly-broad CFAA (for which there are already strong precidents that greatly weaken any defense.)

Bonus: Drags the ugly CFAA back into the public eye…

btr1701 (profile) says:

Jurisdiction

> And it would potentially force any number
> of site owners worldwide to give up their
> anonymity. The bill isn’t limited to sites/site
> owners residing in Florida. All it says is
> “electronic dissemination… to consumers in
> this state.” If a website can be accessed from
> Florida, it conceivably falls under the jurisdiction
> of this proposed law.

No, it wouldn’t. If I’m living in California, or Japan, or Italy, I don’t subject myself to Florida’s jurisdiction merely by putting a website up on the internet.

That’s ridiculous. Florida doesn’t have jurisdiction throughout the known universe, no matter what idiotic laws it may pass or what they say.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Right...

> This would give the Grady “Showboat” Judds
> of Florida law enforcement all the reason
> they need to send ad hoc anti-piracy task
> forces all over the US to shut down infringing
> sites.

If I was running a server in Idaho and some Florida cop showed up and attempted to shut me down, I’d laugh my ass off, tell him to go pound sand, and have *him* arrested for trespass and harassment if he refused to leave.

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