How The Copyright Industry Wants To Undermine Anonymity & Free Speech: 'True Origin' Bills

from the unconstitutional dept

As we’ve noted many times in the past, the entertainment industry likes to take a multi-pronged approach to its quixotic efforts to “stop piracy” (which could be much better dealt with by simply giving the public more of what they want). Working on federal copyright law to continually expand it is one main strategy, but there are a lot of others as well, including pressuring private companies to voluntarily censor content, getting international trade agreements to force laws to change and… getting random state laws to force through big changes quietly. This last strategy has come into focus lately, especially with the rise of so-called “true origin” bills, that are almost certainly unconstitutional, but are rapidly popping up in a variety of states. This is actually a replay of an old strategy. I remember similar “true origin” efforts being pushed about a decade ago, and I’d thought they’d completely died out… but they’re back.

The way they work is pretty simple: they outlaw anonymity on the internet if your website distributes any kind of audiovisual work. The point of this is twofold: one, for those who “register” and reveal their name and address, it makes it easier for the RIAAs and MPAAs of the world to sue a site for copyright infringement. And, for those who don’t reveal their names, the RIAA and MPAA can ask the states to prosecute the site owners for failing to reveal their names.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Florida’s proposed law, which would require any website that hosts audio or video to reveal their name and address. This could have disastrous consequences for whistleblowers or anonymous critics. In the US, the Supreme Court has long recognized the importance of protecting anonymity as a part of the First Amendment, but this bill does away with that completely, just because the movie and music industries think it’s necessary to stop piracy (even though it won’t do that). Unfortunately, it appears that despite widespread criticism, the Florida bill is expected to move forward this week. If you happen to live in Florida, the EFF has set up a tool to help you alert your elected representatives to why such a bill is a terrible and unconstitutional idea.

But… it’s not just Florida. One year ago, Tennessee enacted a similar bill, called the “True Origin of Goods Act” which is nearly identical to the Florida bill. And just last month, here in California, Assemblymember Ian Calderon (who has positioned himself as friendly to technology) introduced a similar bill. The California bill is at least somewhat more limited than the others in that it appears to focus mostly on physical copies that are offered for “sale” or “rental” — but it at least raises questions about anonymity rights, and opens the door to future adjustments to “match” this law to internet displays of content.

The efforts here are all basically the same: quietly use state laws to undermine anonymity in an effort to help the RIAAs and MPAAs of the world try to track down the owners of websites they don’t like. Whether or not you agree with that idea, the fact that to accomplish that (somewhat pointless) goal would undermine basic First Amendment concepts like anonymity and the ability to speak freely, doesn’t seem to be of much concern to the supporters of these bills.

It’s the same old story we’ve seen before with SOPA and other bills: the copyright industry doesn’t seem to care in the slightest about collateral damage from its quixotic effort to stop piracy, rather than to provide the public with better offerings. And, of course, copyright is supposed to be an issue for federal law, not state law, and these efforts are ways that the copyright industry is trying to backdoor in systems to undermine free speech in yet another weak attempt to accomplish a singular and pointless goal.





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Comments on “How The Copyright Industry Wants To Undermine Anonymity & Free Speech: 'True Origin' Bills”

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28 Comments
David says:

I think you are wrong about the target

The efforts here are all basically the same: quietly use state laws to undermine anonymity in an effort to help the RIAAs and MPAAs of the world try to track down the owners of websites they don’t like.

I think what is rather involved here is that RIAA/MPAA want to stop artists from distributing some works of their own anonymously once they have signed with their blood on one of the standard 5-year minimum all-works included exclusive contracts reserved for everybody but the superstars.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

High Court / Low Court

Americans could host their web sites offshore. You know, much like Mitt Romney and friends host their bank accounts offshore. I wonder which will be declared “evidence of criminal activity” first?

Meanwhile, bogus DMCA takedowns have become routine practice. Not so routine, is that some of them have led to bad publicity for the companies issuing them. Unacceptably, some of had to withdraw their takedowns.

Which is why we now have services for the copyright industry to issue their takedowns anonymously:

A representative for Remove Your Media, Eric Greene, refused to name the client who hired him for the takedown, though he noted it was “a distributor outside the U.S.”

Corporations are people too, my friend. But only they get the high court, and the right to anonymity.

Alien Rebel (profile) says:

Luntz Label

the copyright industry doesn’t seem to care in the slightest about collateral damage from its quixotic effort to stop piracy, . .

I cringe when I see statements like this that seem to accept the copyright industry’s stated intentions as genuine. When collateral damage equals suppression of competition, it’s a feature of their strategy. Seriously- the word “Piracy” is merely a Frank Luntz-esque hook the MPAA and cohorts can hang their hat on as they work to enhance market share by any and all means. And their strategy is not “quixotic” when any tilt of the market means profit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Luntz Label

Nah – that wasn’t the collateral damage they were talking about.

There are ideologies/goverments out there that will stop at nothing (including violence) to suppress criticism.

Want to criticise the Chinese government or Islam or Putin?

Being anonymous might be a smart move if you have ties to their countries or relatives under their regimes.

Want to host some of that critical content in the form of videos?

Well this law will deprive you of anonymity (and maybe of your life).

I’m sure that this wan’t an intended cosequence by the *AA’s

Alien Rebel (profile) says:

Re: Re: Luntz Label

The collateral damage we’re talking about here is the crippling of people’s ability to find and share information. From the viewpoint of profitability, the AAs have no incentive to distinguish between stopping piracy of their stuff, and, whoops, so sorry, shutting down the means by which people can access and spend money on competing property. It’s all profitable, baby. Fewer choices in a reduced marketplace means every dollar in search of entertainment and other information stands a better chance of winding up in their pockets. The MPAA even provides a list* of “safe” places to access legal content, with no need for consumers to risk venturing out onto that scary, scary web. (*No link. Screw ’em.)

While China’s motives are probably more ideological and less financial than the AAs’, they’re still allies in wreaking havoc on the net and free speech. As far as the copyright industrialists not intending the damage that will result from their actions, I don’t buy it. They’re evil, not stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Luntz Label

The collateral damage we’re talking about here..
In the article it is

This could have disastrous consequences for whistleblowers or anonymous critics.

I’m sure that the *AAs aren’t really interested in getting critics of Russia, China or various Islamic regimes killed.

At worst they just don’t care – at best they just don’t realize.

I agree with you about the other consequences though.

Tavis (profile) says:

Just how bad can a real names policy be?

In a word, terrorism.

Remember, violent groups out to silence critics need only use an automated DMCA system to get their targets’ contact information and issue targeted death threats. Laws that forcibly de-anonymize people on the internet are a boon for anyone wanting to deprive others of something far, far more serious than anything the publishing companies can even imagine to gain from it.

Lurker Keith says:

Re: Just how bad can a real names policy be?

Identity Theft would increase, exponentially, too.

If all audio-video has to be under real names, the MPAA/ RIAA/ etc. probably want that to include YouTube. How many people use YouTube?

Also, Nintendo uses YouTube to host videos from games like Mario Kart 8 (it appears Splatoon will have a similar video thing, but that isn’t confirmed, yet, as far as I know), which would identify children, as well.

Can everyone say “skyrocketing risk”?

Roland says:

technologically obsolete

You can run a completely anonymous webserver today. It’s called onionshare. Search for it. It uses the tor network, and the server automatically shuts down after it’s accessed. The person on the other end needs to run tor-browser or Tails linux to access it. You need to run a linux from the DeBuntu or RH family to run onionshare. This law is stupid and meaningless and deserves ridicule.

Anonymous Coward says:

Opportunity for abuse

I’m going to make a music site. On this site there will be streaming audio and video of pirated songs produced by big name artists and musical groups. I will follow the letter of the law signing my name, Christopher J. Dodd, the name and address of my shell corporation and my offshore bank accounts you can send money to.I wonder how long it will take for Sony, Atlantic and the other big recording companies send SWAT to 1025 F ST N.W., 10th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20004?

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