How The RIAA Helped Pave The Way For Spain To Undermine Democracy

from the seizing-domains dept

This might seem like a harsh title, but let’s go back a bit into history. In 2010, at the direct urging of the RIAA, the US government, in the form of ICE, suddenly decided that it could seize domains right out from under websites with zero due process. Specifically, the RIAA gave ICE a list of websites that it insisted were engaging in piracy. It later turned out that this list was completely bogus — and the seized domains included some music blogs and a search engine — and when ICE asked the RIAA to provide the evidence (incredibly, many months after seizing the domains…), it turns out that they had none. Even with all of this, ICE kept one blog’s domain for over a year, while denying that site’s lawyer even the chance to talk to the judge overseeing the case — and (even more incredibly) kept two other sites for five whole years.

The RIAA, who was directly quoted in the affidavit used to seize these domains (including falsely claiming that a non-RIAA song, that was personally given to the site by the independent artist in question, was an RIAA song and infringing) later tried to downplay its role in all of this, while still insisting that seizing entire domains based on flimsy claims and zero evidence was a perfectly reasonable strategy.

Fast forward to the present. Over in Spain there’s a big political fight over Catalonia independence, with an upcoming referendum that the Spanish government has declared illegal. Things got very messy with Spanish law enforcement raiding government buildings, offices and homes. There are all sorts of human rights issues being raised here, let alone questions of democracy. However, those aren’t directly the kinds of things we cover here. What did catch our attention, however, is that one of the raids was on the operators of the .cat domain, puntCAT, in order to seize the websites promoting the upcoming referendum and to arrest the company’s head of IT for sedition (yes, sedition).

As EFF’s Jeremy Malcolm explains, this should raise all sorts of alarms and concerns:

We have deep concerns about the use of the domain name system to censor content in general, even when such seizures are authorized by a court, as happened here. And there are two particular factors that compound those concerns in this case. First, the content in question here is essentially political speech, which the European Court of Human Rights has ruled as deserving of a higher level of protection than some other forms of speech. Even though the speech concerns a referendum that has been ruled illegal, the speech does not in itself pose any imminent threat to life or limb.

The second factor that especially concerns us here is that the seizure took place with only 10 days remaining until the scheduled referendum, making it unlikely that the legality of the domains’ seizures could be judicially reviewed before the referendum is scheduled to take place. The fact that such mechanisms of legal review would not be timely accessible to the Catalan independence movement, and that the censorship of speech would therefore be de facto unreviewable, should have been another reason for the Spanish authorities to exercise restraint in this case.

Whether it’s allegations of sedition or any other form of unlawful or controversial speech, domain name intermediaries should not be held responsible for the content of websites that utilize their domains. If such content is unlawful, a court order directed to the publisher or host of that content is the appropriate way for authorities to deal with that illegality, rather than the blanket removal of entire domains from the Internet. The seizure of .cat domains is a worrying signal that the Spanish government places its own interests in quelling the Catalonian independence movement above the human rights of its citizens to access a free and open Internet, and we join ordinary Catalonians in condemning it.

I agree entirely with Malcolm’s assessment, but should note that the US government (even if it wanted to, which it probably does not…) has no moral high ground here, seeing as it’s been seizing domains for the better part of a decade, with some of those earliest seizures coming on behalf of the RIAA (over trumped up charges). As Malcolm says, this doesn’t mean that all illegal content must remain online, but seizing domains is a brute force intimidation and censorship tool for governments. The RIAA should be ashamed that it helped “pioneer” this sort of government censorship.

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Comments on “How The RIAA Helped Pave The Way For Spain To Undermine Democracy”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Meanwhile you guys are going to advocate for them to obtain more power and introduce more regulations/laws. It is amazing that you can’t make the connection when it is staring at you and talking at you every day.

“Actually, the whole MAFIAA should be ashamed of existing.”

You say as they laugh all the way to bank with YOUR money that you willingly give them.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Meanwhile you guys are going to advocate for them to obtain more power and introduce more regulations/laws.

If anything, most of the commenters on this site would prefer the exact opposite. Only headcases like MyNameHere want our corporate media overlords to basically become a fourth branch of the government.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It looks to me that this problem IS a corporate media overlord problems. You see… you give them your money and worship their machine. It looks to me like you are your own problem, except you don’t want to take any responsibility. No wonder RIAA has all the money while you get a couple of lines in a forum somewhere on the internet.

You are making it too easy for them, I am just here to tell you… yes, it is your fault, so shut up and enjoy the ride you paid for.

Anonymous Coward says:

From mangled allusions in title to linkage so tenuous it's not even vapor...

HOOTS all the way through!

"pave the way" to "undermine", eh? You should really THINK on what physical relations you invoke with any cliche.

Rest is Masnick at his irrational worst: gloss over contemporary topic then write the lead-in of anti-RIAA blathering and vaguely merge. Voila! RIAA due blame for every trouble!

I’m only surprised that you didn’t blame Russia. May have just spoilered what you’re working on, though.

And RIAA isn’t even mentioned in your first link! — Search there for "RIAA" found only THIS very piece!
"If you liked this post, you may also be interested in… * How The RIAA Helped Pave The Way For Spain To Undermine Democracy"

Didn’t think I’d missed that, though 7 years ago, and was right. So I’m not bothering with the later links, as those too are likely related only by the text that Masnick ground out for the purpose.

5th attempt. Seems back to the prior blockage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Personally I blame the aftermath of the Franco and that people in the previous regime were never punished for their crimes. The standard for wannabe tyrants is always ‘what they can get away with’. Thus now there is no caution against repression for fear that they’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes. A lack of justice sets terrible precedents.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m inclined to agree. All separatist movements are based on the notion that the people of that particular area are at the back of the queue for services, etc., since the capital is getting the best of everything. I’m seeing this here in the UK as separatist movements gain traction.

If the Spanish government is worried that the Catalans might break away (I always thought the Basques would go first), why not make it more desirable to be part of Spain? Rough wooing has never worked in terms of winning people over.

Anonymous Coward says:

the RIAA and sister MPAA has been behind all sorts of on-line stuff, mainly to promote what it wants, the complete control of the Internet and as they have used governments to do the dirty work for them, spreading complete lies and bullshit which these governments have been only too pleased to use, they are getting that control. governments are now using the same tactics and, as you say, RIAA should be ashamed but considering it isn’t ashamed when families are torn apart, people imprisoned and even killed, just to keep them in charge of music disks, songs etc and the MPAA have done the same, there’s no chance of them being in the least bit ashamed! in fact, i’ll bet a dime to a dollar they are celebrating what has happened this very minute!!

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Illegal content

“…this doesn’t mean that all illegal content must remain online…”

Did someone replace the regular TechDirt editors with someone from the RIAA?

There’s no such thing as illegal (or unlawful) content. Content does not violate a civil or criminal statute. Only people can do that and incur civil or criminal penalties.

Please do all your readers a favor and never ever say “illegal content” again as if it’s a thing.

It’s not.


Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Illegal content

Ehud, I’ve got enough trouble getting them to stop using the term “intellectual property” with scare quotes because it puts us on the back foot having to explain that intellectual output isn’t actual property like a house or car every. Flippin’. Time.

The fact that everybody else is doing it makes it all the more imperative that we rock the boat as hard as we can and put the opposition on the back foot.

In any case I’ll have to agree to disagree with you on the illegality of content; while copyrighted content can be described as “unauthorised” when it’s being shared on torrent sites, etc., illegal content is that which actually breaks the law in and of itself, e.g. child porn. Such things actually do violate criminal statutes.

Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Re: Re: Illegal content

I knew you’d bring up child porn. Not to split hairs, the data on the storage facility are not unlawful. There are no statutes which address responsibilities of inanimate objects.

Being in possession of the data or transferring that data within countries that outlaw those actions of people is unlawful behavior on the part of the people. The data are innocent.

And with that I’ll say no more 😉
Good morning 🙂


Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Tenuous link is tenuous.

I really don’t see any link here between the RIAA and the Spanish government, other than both of them being wanting to squash speech and finding an effective method to do so. Is there any actual causal evidence between the two? “Pave the way” has a specific meaning, one which is not satisfied by merely providing an idea of methodology, and even that claim seems to have no evidence to justify it.

The RIAA may have done this first, but, not only was that in a different legal environment, without specific causal evidence you can’t rule out parallel invention.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Tenuous link is tenuous.

Yeah, by all accounts Mr. Email independently created his EMAIL program without any knowledge of prior work. I really don’t have any issue with that particular claim. Other claims, such as EMAIL being the first "true" email program, based on ever-increasingly narrow definitions of email, which eventually reduce to "It’s not email because I didn’t invent it. Therefore I’m the only real inventor of email.", or claiming that his particular program was instrumental in email as it exists today (in other words, paved the way for modern email), despite lacking any supporting causal evidence, those I have serious problems with.

His general behavior also disgusts me, but that really doesn’t impact the validity (or lack thereof) of his claims.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Tenuous link is tenuous.

If the RIAA is allowed to claim that supermarkets are an IP-driven industry hurt by downloading music (because nobody would ever purchase food without intellectual property driving supermarket operations), it stands to reason that the RIAA is linked to the Spanish government. Can you imagine the standstill if all government operations weren’t allowed to use IP?

Youarejocking says:

You are buying too much one side of the issue

( I am not a lawyer nor play one on TV)

No Web page promoting the referendum has been seized without judicial review.

The webs were seized by judicial order and the procedure has nothing to do with the copyright procedure and they has been seized for giving infrastructure support to an illegal referendum not for simply promoting it. They were been used to distribute the illegally obtained cense (the referendum promoters has no legal right to access the private information needed to build it) for the illegal referendum.

The legal system is different if you are taken for questioning in front of a judge (the equivalent for the American system would be a great jury I think) as a witness you don’t have right to a lawyer and lying is a felony but you can’t.
If you are taken for questioned as a accused (potential) you have right to legal representation and lying only affect your credibility if catch
So as a protection a person must be taken for questioning as a (potential) accused for anything that the judge think that exist the POSSIBILITY that the person would be finally accuse.

So at the end the complaint is that a judge got a bit heavy handed while blocking illegal activity in the web, and that EFF do not understand the Spanish legal system

And the raiding government buildings, offices and homes is about embezzlement for use of government money for something that has already been declared is against the Spanish constitution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: You are buying too much one side of the issue

Madrid govt using (via legal fig leaf of tame judges) internal law to censor things that, according to more overarching European laws (that should be implemented by all member states) should not be censored without exceptional circumstances.
I’m not a lawyer, just aware of EU human rights related laws, as my govt (UK) likes to play fast and loose with them too.

NeghVar (profile) says:

That same tactic here

That same tactic could likely be used here too. A grassroots rival against a powerful incumbent. If that incumbent has the right ties, force base-less take-downs of their websites. Eventually, they are found to be baseless and the domain is returned, but the damage has already been done. The incumbent is reelected and the grassroots runner was silenced.

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