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.

Filed Under: anonymity, anti-piracy, audio, copyright, florida, free speech, videos


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  • icon
    TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 6:18am

    Hey Senator NumbNuts:

    I'll put my name and info on my website when you put yours on the senate website where you spew your press release videos - considering the "speaking fees" you collect for them, I consider that "commercial" work...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 6:36am

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:07am

      Re: Minor change:

      And only the little guy will be affected by this because a corporation can just post it's "real and true name" of XYZ Incorporated and the contact info for its PR department. It's not like the CEO's home address and telephone number are going to get posted.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:09am

        Re: Re: Minor change:

        The little guy can do this as well! It's not actually that expensive or difficult to form your own corporation and give a PO Box and answering service or standalone voicemail number as contact information.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:15am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:24am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 10:06am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Minor change:

              The cost of the box + service would run you around $10/mo.

              That can be more than the hosting costs for some people, who may have to rely on free hosting, and the difference between being able to publish or not.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Tanner Andrews (profile), 5 Mar 2015 @ 4:32am

          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'' or ``Corporation 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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 8:44am

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 8:57am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      coward (anon), 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:15am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:26am

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

        "Why wait until the cops come a-knocking."

        Because there's no need to restrict my activities even that much unless there's actually a problem.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:20am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:22am

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

        r/sires/sites

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:28am

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

        "The geoblock will be taken as an admission ofguilt."

        Guilt of what?

        The law says that it applies to sites that service Florida. A geoblock is nothing more than a way of declaring that the site does not intend to service Florida.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:33am

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 10:22am

            Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:36am

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

          Guilt of trying to circumvent Florida law. especially if you tell people how to bypass the block.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            John Fenderson (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 10:20am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 10:38am

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

              Talk to Kim Dotcom or Andrew "weev" Auernheimer, amongst others, about just how widely US law enforcement interprets US laws. .

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • icon
                John Fenderson (profile), 5 Mar 2015 @ 8:10am

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

                I'm well aware. My underlying point, though, is that I think it is wrong to avoid engaging in legal behavior just because the government might freak out about it and lash out at me. Doing that is no different than capitulating to terrorists.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 8:59am

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 5 Mar 2015 @ 4:22am

      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.

      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, Zippo Mfg v. Zippo Dot Com, 952 F.Supp. 1119, but you do have to both have and plead the contacts with Florida. International Shoe and all that.

      I suspect that most of the California ``Hollywood'' 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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Richard (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:06am

    Safety

    Consider the problem of running a site with political views that might endanger your safety.

    All it now requires is for your opponents to claim somehow that your site is "commercial" and you are shut down - or maybe worse.

    This is especially true if other countries, that have even more lopsided politics than the US, get the same idea.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:07am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:13am

    This will break the internet, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:13am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:15am

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

    Hahahaha in your little dreams. That's adorable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 2:43pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:18am

    I'd like it as well, when all these legislators and bought politicians also wear the sponsors on their suits and outfits like F1 racers.
    Maybe the public themselves needs to get this made a law, because fuck legislators screwing people over.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    kirsten burnett, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:24am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:38am

      Re: no more freedom

      Why is running website annonmously a concern to them

      Because it is hard to shoot the messenger when they remain hidden.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 9:46am

    London

    The bill ... could give local law enforcement City of London Police-esque powers to act as de facto copyright cops
    Don't they already have the same powers as the City of London cops (i.e., none)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 10:07am

    We are living in a corporate facist world, and i am corporate facist girl

    Madonna

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 4 Mar 2015 @ 11:30am

    I am sure we can trust them not to let their personal preferances get in the way like the DoJ did when they went out of their way to shut down legal porn industry business simply because they just didn't like them.

    Though no doubt any site that harbours the type of criminal that criticizes the police will be caught in their net

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Arcan, 4 Mar 2015 @ 3:00pm

    The only real way to deal with this.

    Have google and all the other large sites disable access in florida until they change the law.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 3:09pm

      Re: The only real way to deal with this.

      That doesn't seem like a very neutral way to deal with the net, does it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        John Fenderson (profile), 5 Mar 2015 @ 8:12am

        Re: Re: The only real way to deal with this.

        In the context of network neutrality, this is entire fair game. NN is about ISPs treating traffic in a fair and equitable way. It has nothing to do with whether site operators restrict access to their sites.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Mar 2015 @ 3:32pm

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bdj, 5 Mar 2015 @ 2:53am

    Save us, global warming!

    Somebody once joked that Florida would eventually be under water due to global warming and rising oceans. Is that still a possibility? *fingers crossed*

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 5 Mar 2015 @ 11:43am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    btr1701 (profile), 5 Mar 2015 @ 11:45am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jullian Regina, 22 Oct 2015 @ 2:45pm

    On the fence...

    I'm on the fence on this one. I do believe people should be able to protect their identity, even on a website ownership. Buuuuut anyone who doesn't want to be know is probably doing it for a bad reason. This is a difficult one to justify but a very interesting topic none the less.

    Great article!

    Jullian

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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