While I still think the biggest story to come out of the Sony hacks is the fact that the MPAA had a plan to fund investigations
of Google by public officials to get negotiating leverage over the company, a lot of other interesting tidbits have been revealed as well, including the fact that the MPAA still really, really believes in the idea of site blocking
. It has listed it as a "high priority" item that was discussed in a recent anti-piracy strategy meeting bringing together the top lawyers from most of the major Hollywood studios:
As the TorrentFreak article above notes, the MPAA laid out a four prong approach to force site-blocking on the US. The Verge recently posted an MPAA email
that described at least some of the strategy as well:
We have traditionally thought of site blocking in the US as a DMCA 512(j) issue. In some ways, that is too narrow and we plan to expand our scope of inquiry on two levels. First, DMCA 512(j), by its terms, necessarily creates an adversarial relationship with the target ISP (and more generally with the ISP community). We have been exploring theories under the All Writs Acts, which, unlike DMCA 512(j), would allow us to obtain court orders requiring site blocking without first having to sue and prove the target ISPs are liable for copyright infringement. This may open up avenues for cooperative arrangements with ISPs. Second, we start from the premise that site blocking is a means to an end (the end being effective measures by ISPs to prevent infringement through notorious pirate sites). There may be other equally effective measures ISPs can take, and that they might be more willing to take voluntarily. Our intention is to work with our own retained experts and Comcast (and MPAA’s Technology group) to identify and study these other possibilities, as well as US site blocking technical issues.
The MPAA is right that 512(j) is likely a dead end. In fact, a legal analysis done by the MPAA's lawyers at Jenner & Block (the MPAA's preferred legal hatchet men) details why
. The "All Writs Act" approach is nutty, and would lead to significant push back from a variety of parties (we just recently noted that the DOJ has been trying
to use the All Writs Act to get companies to help decrypt encrypted phones). There would undoubtedly be a big legal fight over any such attempt. Other plans, like using the ITC or the Communications Act would also run into problems.
In fact, The Verge also just published
some internal legal analysis from Jenner & Block explaining why the ITC route is really risky and unlikely to work
, whether targeting transit ISPs (Level3, Cogent, etc...) or access ISPs (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, etc...). Amusingly, the "alternative"
to SOPA that was pushed out by some anti-SOPA folks in Congress actually would have made the ITC route more feasible, but the MPAA was among its loudest critics. And yet now suddenly it's exploring the ITC path? Ha!
Either way, the most insane part of all of this is the fact that, nearly three years after SOPA, the MPAA more or less admits in an email that it hasn't really analyzed the technological impact of site blocking (which was a key component of SOPA) and feels like maybe it should get on it. From the email sent by MPAA General Counsel Steven Fabrizio:
Technical Analyses. Very little systematic work has been completed to understand the technical issues related to site blocking in the US and/or alternative measures IPSs might adopt. We will identify and retain a consulting technical expert to work with us to study these issues. In this context, we will explore which options might lead ISPs to cooperate with us.
Talk about putting the anti-piracy cart before the internet horse...
Meanwhile, the MPAA -- recognizing the shit storm created by SOPA -- has made sure that all of its site blocking efforts are to remain as quiet as possible
Be cautious about communications on site-blocking—continue building a record of success where possible, but avoid over-communicating and drawing negative attention.... Where site-blocking is actively under consideration, make available research (1) that site-blocking works and (2) that it does not break the Internet (lack of "side effects"). [Do this] in closed-door meetings with policymakers and stakeholders, [but] not necessarily publicized to a wider audience.
Yes, make sure people think site blocking "works" even though the MPAA doesn't have the requisite technical knowledge to understand it. So, in the interest of open source research, I'm going to help the MPAA out a bit and explain to them why site blocking is stupid
and massively counterproductive
. I mean, they could just look at what's happened in the past few weeks since The Pirate Bay went down
, leading tons of other sites to pop up and (as reported in Variety -- normally a keen source of spinning in favor of the studios) the actual impact on infringement online was basically nil
But, let's take this a step further. Let's say... for example, that the MPAA succeeded in having certain "evil" sites blocked. Thankfully, at about the same time as these meetings were going on, the MPAA also gave Congress a list
of the sites it considered "notorious." Let's take one -- how about torrentz.eu -- and do a basic Google Search
showing what results would come up if
Google were forced not to link to the site (which is slightly different from site blocking
, but the MPAA is also talking about similar efforts to get full domains "removed" from Google as an alternative to site blocking -- and the end results would be pretty much the same thing). Take a look:
If you can't see it, it's basically a bunch of links to pages listing out where you can go instead of that particular site. In short, site blocking is stupid. It won't actually cut down on any infringing activity, and it's easily gotten around, whether by VPNs or just by doing a rather basic search. Now, of course, the MPAA and its friends would likely still blame Google for this state of affairs, but I'm curious how the MPAA contends that Google should return results on such a site if it's been blocked or removed from search? How could it possibly also
block out links to sites that list alternatives? Or is part of the plan to expand the censorship all the way down the pile so that any site that even mentions sites that the MPAA declares "notorious" also need to be blocked? Because if that's the case, they're going to run into a pretty massive First Amendment question before long.
The problem -- as always -- is that the MPAA still thinks that the public is stupid
, and that if they can successfully "block" sites that people will stop looking for alternatives. The reality
is that the way to get people to stop looking for unauthorized alternatives
is to make better authorized alternatives
-- but that's clearly still not a priority for the MPAA. And that's a real shame.
And none of this even touches on the problems with false positives
(something that's already happened a bunch) or how site blocking might seriously screw up certain security setups, like DNSSEC (something the MPAA was clearly warned about during the SOPA fight, but which it still seems to deny is a real problem). In fact, during a recent secret "Site Blocking" meeting
by the MPAA, it still appears to mock
the idea that site blocking would break the internet by messing up DNSSEC. That's because the MPAA still
doesn't seem to fundamentally understand the issues at play. If they actually talked to some real engineers at ISPs, maybe they'd learn
that this whole infatuation is misguided and won't work.
In short, the MPAA sees site blocking as a priority because it doesn't understand the first thing
about site blocking and why it would fail -- and that's speaking legally, technically and using just basic common sense. So why is the MPAA so focused on that, rather than actually innovating and adapting
? This is what happens when you put a bunch of litigators, rather than innovators, in charge.