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October 16, 2011#

Proposed Internet Censorship Bill “Protect IP Act of 2011 S.968”

I hate to drop politics here but I promise reading this will be worth your while. There’s a proposed bill “Protect IP Act of 2011 S.968” (PIPA) that aims to give the Department of Justice here in the US power that could force search engines and ISP’s to block users access to the Internet. If passed, this will have a direct impact on us all. Just think the recent internet censorship in China but bigger.

The Protect IP Act set for a hearing in front of a Senate Committee and if we don’t speak out we could soon find ourselves being blocked like the Chinese and Iranians from accessing certain parts of the internet.

Here’s an excerpt by David Segal of the Huffington Post with further explanation about PIPA.

PIPA would create two blacklists of Internet domain names. Courts could add sites to the first list; the Attorney General would have control over the second. Internet service providers and others (everyone from Comcast to  PayPal to Google AdSense) would be required to block any domains on the first list. They would also receive immunity (and presumably the good favor of the government) if they block domains on the second list.

The lists are for sites “dedicated to infringing activity,” but that’s defined very broadly — any domain name where counterfeit goods or copyrighted material are “central to the activity of the Internet site” could be blocked.

One example of what this means in practice: sites like YouTube could be censored in the US. Copyright holders  like Viacom often argue copyrighted material is central to the activity of YouTube, but under current US law,  YouTube is perfectly legal as long as they take down copyrighted material when they’re informed about it — which is why Viacom lost to YouTube in court.

But if PIPA passes, Viacom wouldn’t even need to prove YouTube is doing anything illegal to get it shut down — as long as they can persuade the courts that enough people are using it for copyright infringement,  the whole site could be censored.

Perhaps even more disturbing: Even if Viacom couldn’t get a court to compel censorship of a YouTube or a  similar site, the DOJ could put it on the second blacklist and encourage ISPs to block it even without a court order. (ISPs have ample reason to abide the will of the powerful DOJ, even if the law doesn’t formally require them to do so.)

PIPA’s passage would be a tremendous blow to free speech on the Internet — and likely a first step towards much broader online censorship.

This is something I’d expect to see in China, not here in the US. We can all fight back by signing the following petition to Congress http://www.opencongress.org/bill/112-s968/sho.

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