We’re taking part in Copyright Week, a series of actions and discussions supporting key principles that should guide copyright policy. Every day this week, various groups are taking on different elements of copyright law and policy, addressing what’s at stake and what we need to do to make sure that copyright promotes creativity and innovation.
As Copyright Week comes to a close, it’s worth remembering why we have in it January. Twelve years ago, a diverse coalition of internet users, websites, and public interest activists took to the internet to protest SOPA/PIPA, proposed laws that would have, among other things, blocked access to websites if they were alleged to be used for copyright infringement. More than a decade on, there still is no way to do this without causing irreparable harm to legal online expression.
A lot has changed in twelve years. Among those changes is a major shift in how we, and legislators, view technology companies. What once were new innovations have become behemoths. And what once were underdogs are now the establishment.
What has not changed, however, is the fact that much of what internet platforms are used for is legal, protected, expression. Moreover, the typical users of those platforms are those without access to the megaphones of major studios, record labels, or publishers. Any attempt to resurrect SOPA/PIPA—no matter what it is rebranded as—remains a threat to that expression.
Site-blocking, sometimes called a “no-fault injunction,” functionally allows a rightsholder to prevent access to an entire website based on accusations of copyright infringement. Not just access to the alleged infringement, but the entire website. It is using a chainsaw to trim your nails.
We are all so used to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the safe harbor it provides that we sometimes forget how extraordinary the relief it provides really is. Instead of providing proof of their claims to a judge or jury, rightsholders merely have to contact a website with their honest belief that their copyright is being infringed, and the allegedly infringing material will be taken down almost immediately. That is a vast difference from traditional methods of shutting down expression.
Site-blocking would go even further, bypassing the website and getting internet service providers to deny their customers access to a website. This clearly imperils the expression of those not even accused of infringement, and it’s far too blunt an instrument for the problem it’s meant to solve. We remain opposed to any attempts to do this. We have a long memory, and twelve years isn’t even that long.