The Music Industry is Lobbying for a New Internet Censorship Bill Like SOPA/PIPA
The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) recently issued a joint letter in which they asked Vishal Amim, the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC), to consider the option of site blocking for copyright infringements. IPEC is better known as the IP czar, a government office created by a 2008 act of the United States Congress, known as the PRO-IP Act. The RIAA and the NMPA also called on the IP czar to ask Congress for an amendment of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) to create new felony penalties for people who knowingly stream copyrighted content illegally. The IP czar had requested public input for its Joint Strategic Plan for Intellectual Property Enforcement and the two music industry groups had sent their joint letter with a wishlist of new penalties for pirates, which could also harm internet freedom.
Site blocking of allegedly pirated content has become a frequently used copyright enforcement mechanism in other parts of the world; however, in the United States, site blocking was last considered by lawmakers in 2011. Back then, two controversial bills were championed by music industry groups, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP Act, or PIPA), which would have enabled site blocking over alleged instances of copyright violations. PIPA was introduced in the United States Senate on May 12th, 2011 by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and 11 bipartisan cosponsors. SOPA was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26th, 2011 by Republican Representative Lamar S. Smith. The two bills were highly controversial, and many advocates for internet freedom said that the two bills would violate the 1st amendment of the constitution of the United States.
On January 18th, 2012, over 7,000 web sites, including Google, Mozilla, WordPress, Reddit, and the English language version of Wikipedia, held an online “blackout” protest and urged visitors to contact legislators and ask them to oppose SOPA and PIPA. Hacktivist groups like Anonymous also protested, using DDOS attacks against the web sites of the RIAA, Universal Music Group, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and the United States Copyright Office, temporarily shutting down access. The massive response in opposition to the site blocking proposed in the SOPA and PIPA bills worked to halt the bills in Congress. Because legislation which would empower copyright holders to block access to web sites was so unpopular with the general public, site blocking legislation hasn’t been seriously considered for nearly a decade.
In the RIAA’s and NMPA’s joint letter to the IP czar, the two music industry groups encouraged the IP czar and Congress to investigate “the positive impact that website blocking of foreign sites has in other jurisdictions and whether U.S. law should be revised accordingly.” The two music industry groups go on to say in their letter to the IP czar that such online censorship in other countries did not have “significant unintended consequences,” and suggested that now would be a good time for legislators in the United States to reconsider the same kinds of site blocking powers that were included in the extremely unpopular SOPA and PIPA bills.
Another copyright cartel, a group known as the Copyright Alliance, also submitted similar recommendations to the IP czar. In the letter that the Copyright Alliance submitted to the IP czar, they called on the IP czar and legislators to study other countries’ intellectual property enforcement mechanisms, and they specifically suggest site blocking. “In addition to learning what remedies are effective, much can be learned from other countries in ensuring such remedies are proportionate and do not result in overblocking or other unwanted consequences,” the Copyright Alliance stated in their submission.