I’d like to call your attention to a piece of legislation floating around the Senate right now. Dubbed the “Protect IP Act of 2011,” this legislation targets the businesses and parties associated with a website that has illegal files. Read Senate Bill 968, the Protect IP Act of 2011 (PDF) here.
Unfortunately, this legislation is not very sophisticated. I understand why it was introduced, but punishing someone for linking to a source means that you’re assuming they know whether or not that content is legal. In many, many cases — they don’t. Hell, that’s even happened to me before and I do my due diligence.
In my experiences, I’ve seen sites that are set up as third parties, where they become a filter for illegal content without actually hosting the files. The DMCA does not apply to sites that “link” to illegal content, and I’m inclined to think that this tries to fill in the gap.
I don’t expect that this legislation would be used for “a” link, but the way that it’s presented makes it difficult to tell how to prosecute. The way this reads — they could. After all, an information location tool isn’t just a search engine, it’s a website. It’s a Twitter feed. Facebook. e-mail. Whatever.
Here’s the legal definition:
According to 47 USCS § 231 (5), [Title 47. Telegraphs, Telephones, and Radiotelegraphs; Chapter 5. Wire Or Radio Communication; Common Carriers; Common Carrier Regulation] the term internet information location tool means “a service that refers or links users to an online location on the World Wide Web. Such term includes directories, indices, references, pointers, and hypertext links.” — Definition of information location tool from US Legal.com
While the word “significant” was tossed in a few places, I don’t think the scope of this bill is apparent. This type of legislation would be extremely difficult to enforce on a link-by-link basis anyhow, unless they were targeting a specific site and tracked the backlinks, to file a class action lawsuit against the “pirate” and all the people who mentioned it. That process could be very time-consuming and, in some cases, result in a lot of detective work to find out where (e.g. which country) the content and website owner lives. What happens if Pirate Site Zimbabwe is linked to by a handful of people in the U.S.? If passed, the prosecution and defense of this bill could get really expensive, very quickly.
I’m concerned about the way this legislation is written and what happens when the law doesn’t work according to expectations. Will we see other, more visible changes to the ‘net dictating what we can access and what we can’t?
Part of the reason why I’m pointing this out to you, is because I feel it’s important for you to know what legislation is shaping the internet and make your own decisions as to what you feel about these laws. Regardless of what you believe, please take the time to follow sites like Wired.com and TechCrunch or net evangelists like Cory Doctorow. You don’t have to agree with everything (or even like) what these sites report, but education is the first step to understanding how you’ll be affected.