Techdirt Hit by Phony DMCA Takedown

Another SOPA-in-practice moment: Our friends at TechDirt have had an anti-SOPA/PIPA post taken down in the name of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).

Only problem is, there’s no infringing content to be found anywhere near the post. Not in the post itself, not in any of the comments. Nowhere. Which, since the post has now been surreptitiously disappeared from search engine results, is more than a little worrying, as it gives substance to the fear that anti-copyright measures can be and are used to suppress free speech. The Techdirt team was given no notification of the takedown or opportunity to remove the so-called infringing content, either. They stumbled on it a month later doing a regular Google search.

And given that the post that was taken down was a primer on how to fight SOPA/PIPA copyright legislation, it all leaves a pretty bad taste in the mouth.

Read the Techdirt post here. We’ll be watching what happens.

Mapping the Groundswell

Today we’re putting up a page on our website to show some of our data from the January 18th internet protest that stalled internet-harming copyright legislation in its tracks.

It’s been a month since the internet community joined forces to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the anti-piracy legislation that threatened open internet, and we’re finally starting to see some of the data from January 18th, the major “blackout” day of action against the bills.

We’re proud to have been one of the leaders on the anti-SOPA/PIPA movement — our StopTheWall phone call campaign to link online activists directly to their local senator’s offices generated 15,000 calls through our site to local senators, so many calls, in fact, that there was a senate switchboard meltdown. But what’s really exciting to see is how our efforts were part of a much larger whole, proving that the our community is capable of being a formidable force when it comes to protecting the internet.

Our map tool breaks down by region the action that took place on January 18th. The data shown represents the phone calls made to local senators and the number or signatures on petitions.  We think its pretty cool. Take a look at it here.

Hey. No SOPA. Remember?

We’ve got our eyes on this one: Form building startup Jotform.com, which hosts it’s domain on GoDaddy, was suspended two days ago by a U.S. government agency in the course of an investigation into content posted on Jotform’s site.

Jotform founder Aytekin Tank posted on their corporate blog defending Jotform and also directing users to move their forms to JotForm.net while the investigation is cleared up. Tank defended his site’s policing methods and results, saying, “This can happen to any site that allows public to post content. SOPA may not have passed, but what happened shows that it is already being practiced.” [emphasis added]

Tank also wrote an agitated post on Hacker News detailing his impatience at the U.S. Secret Service’s lethargy in responding to the case.  He said; “I told them we are a web service with hundreds of thousands of users, so this is a matter of urgency, and we are ready to cooperate fully”.

We’re watching to see how this plays out. While there’s not a lot of information at present, it seems as if GoDaddy or the government or both may be dangerously close to the kinds of enforcement rules that were rejected with the shelving of SOPA and PIPA.

As a follow up to yesterday’s link to Mike Masnick’s rebuttal to the RIAA, Ernesto Falcon at Public Knowledge talks through the content industry’s systematic campaign on misinformation around large swaths of SOPA and PIPA.

Read more at Public Knowledge

RIAA boss Cary Sherman wrote some thoughts in the New York Times about the SOPA/PIPA process and its “flaws.”

Our friend Mike Masnick has a retort.

Read more at Techdirt.

70 Groups Ask Congress to Halt Work On SOPA and PIPA

In the wake of all successful protest movements, once the dust settles, the time comes to take positive action. With SOPA and PIPA dead in the water, thanks to the sustained and comprehensive efforts of the internet community; the thousands of phone calls we made, the millions of us that signed Google’s petition, it’s time for our community to come up with alternative legislation - a solution that addresses online copyright infringement without compromising free speech and innovation. 

A letter sent today to Congress and signed by 70+ companies, including Engine, Mozilla, and Public Knowledge, urged Congress to “to take a breath, step back, and approach the issues from a fresh perspective.” 

The letter warned against repeating the mistakes of SOPA and PIPA, and requested that legislative debate surrounding the issue be “open, transparent, and sufficiently deliberative to allow the full range of interested parties to offer input and to evaluate specific proposals.” That means taking into account the views from tech companies and media companies. It means seeking out information and statistics from unbiased sources. It means keeping the users of the internet in the loop, because our input matters, and we have shown that we can and will make ourselves heard.

Read the letter, in full, here from Public Knowledge.

From our friend, Tina Lee, at ZeroDivide. Read more here.

The Sky is Rising

We’ve all heard how peer to peer music sharing sites are keeping dollars out of artist’s bank accounts. Or maybe we know someone who works in publishing who is throwing up their hands at how sites like Amazon are choking the industry, making it impossible for them to compete. Hollywood would like you to know that downloading pirated movies is pretty much the same as snatching a handbag or stealing a car.  So everyone is agreement. Something has to be done, before our creative industries are submerged completely by cut-rate imitations. Right?

Wrong.
 
What if we told you the obliteration of these industries is not nigh? That actually, our creative industries are steadily growing, and that far from being a death knell, the internet is proving to be a bastion of opportunity for artists and those who enable them?

A report published by Floor64 (and proudly sponsored by us here at Engine) highlights some pretty fascinating research which shows that our entertainment industries have not only been thriving over the last few years despite the biggest recession since the Great Depression - they have been expanding.  

Take the music industry, for example.  Ok, true, the era of the rock star might be over. Big music execs no longer have the last word on who is meteorically risen to the ranks of the famous, and when.  On the other hand, what we have now, is more.  More artists producing more quality product, more platforms for those artists to market themselves on, more opportunities to create business models that are innovative and successful. More successful than you might think.  From lowering production costs, using crowdfunding, or offering up a “pay what you think is fair” payment structure, there are several non-traditional methods which have garnered incredible success, and which co-authors Masnick and Ho have found very interesting case studies for.

So yes, there is reason for people in traditional businesses in these industries to be feeling the pinch.  But by protecting the interests of these players, we’d be jeopardizing the prospects of the industry itself, of the artist, and of the consumer.  

This report is worth your time.  Read it, share it, comment.
Pride and Purpose

This morning, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid posted a statement to his website announcing he would not be holding a cloture vote on the PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) this coming Tuesday as previously planned. Less than an hour later, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith announced he would postpone markup of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act in the House until “wider agreement can be reached.” 

This constitutes a stunning and major victory for Internet voices from all across America that came together in the last few weeks and months in opposition to this bill. Across the internet more than 13 million people stood up and took action against SOPA and PIPA and were able to achieve substantial change on the movement of these bills.
 
But the fight has only just begun. As Senator Reid said, the Senate Leadership is hoping to achieve compromise from all parties over the next several weeks. Stay tuned at EngineAdvocacy.org for more details on how to continue the fight as we’ll be posting new tools very shortly.
 
Above all, thank you all so much for your hard work, for your phone calls, for taking action online and offline. Make no mistake, today is a truly inspiring victory for the power of activism and engagement. But to find a better way forward, we’ll need more victories over the next several weeks and months. And together, we can achieve that victory.

Thank you for all that you do.
Censorship Around the World
While we’ve been fighting SOPA and PIPA, other countries around the world are also waging battles against the dire consequences of internet censorship.
 
The oppressive regime in Belarus set a new law into effect today which tightens the already strict regulation of internet use by making it illegal for Belarussians to visit foreign websites.  The Eastern European country established an extreme level of control over internet use last year when it issued Presidential Decree No. 60, under which ISPs are required to block access to certain types of content and specific URLs – which are so far not disclosed to the public.  A similar, US version of this legislation – the Communications Decency Act of 1996 -  sparked controversy in the mid-90’s and was eventually overturned for violating First Amendment rights.
 
The new law is ostensibly to regulate online commerce – that is, making sure only domestic domains are used to provide online services – and violating it will result in a misdemeanor with a fine not to exceed the equivalent of about $125.  However, the implications could be much more serious than a slap on the wrist and a small fine.  The law requires that internet cafes and individuals providing internet access to other parties be responsible for any illegal browsing or e-commerce, and failure to report illegal usage of foreign sites could result in the business being shut down.   This kind of excessive punishment essentially discourages public internet use.  The government also has authorization to change and add to the list of banned sites – a level of governmental control that civil rights groups are distressed by (Freedom House rates Belarus’ press freedom “not free” with “substantial political censorship”).

Meanwhile, Spain has passed anti-piracy legislation remarkably similar to the SOPA bill. Under the new Sinde law, a special commission will be formed to react to copyright infringement complaints made by rightsholders.  Slightly less draconian than SOPA, the websites will have ten days to remove the infringing material before being shut down. However, the bill has generated major opposition in Spain to what people see as a misleading law enacted for the benefit of Hollywood.

These battles mark crucial junctions for the future of open internet.  Just as the rejection of the Communications Decency Act was a pivotal moment in the creation of an unrestricted and dynamic internet landscape back in 1996, laws like Decree No. 60, Sinde, and SOPA/PIPA could set the tone for a more closed, stifled, and creatively impoverished world wide web.