In The Patent, Copyright, Trademark, and Trade Secret Horror Files, I collected some examples of how copyright and other forms of IP can or do lead to literal censorship or similar infringements on freedom, such as:
- Microsoft antipiracy efforts caught up in Russian political scandal (Russian authorities are using piracy “investigations” as a pretext for seizing computers and other materials from political opponents of the government and news organizations);
- Susan Boyle prevented from singing a Lou Reed song because of copyright;
- Pro wrestler sues rapper over hand gesture: Yet Another Example of how Intellectual Property is Partial Enslavement (trademark)
- German Publishers Want Monopoly On Sentences (in Germany, newspaper publishers are lobbying for ‘a new exclusive right conferring the power to monopolize speech e.g. by assigning a right to re-use a particular wording in the headline of a news article anywhere else without the permission of the rights holder)
- The case where the seminal German silent film “Nosferatu” was deemed a derivative work of “Dracula” and courts ordered all copies destroyed.
- Shortly before his death, author J.D. Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye, convinced U.S. courts to ban the publication of a novel called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye.” (See also my post Book Banning Courtesy of Copyright Law)
The latest in this parade of horribles is “S. 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). It’s currently being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.” Hatch has become the Darth Vader of IP in the Senate. As explained in the EFF post Censorship of the Internet Takes Center Stage in “Online Infringement” Bill:
This flawed bill would allow the Attorney General and the Department of Justice to break the Internet one domain at a time — by requiring domain registrars/registries, ISPs, DNS providers, and others to block Internet users from reaching certain websites. The bill would also create two Internet blacklists. The first is a list of all the websites hit with a censorship court order from the Attorney General. The second, more worrying, blacklist is a list of domain names that the Department of Justice determines — without judicial review — are “dedicated to infringing activities.” The bill only requires blocking for domains in the first list, but strongly suggests that domains on the second list should be blocked as well by providing legal immunity for Internet intermediaries and DNS operators who decide to block domains on the second blacklist as well. (It’s easy to predict that there will be tremendous pressure for Internet intermediaries of all stripes to block these “deemed infringing” sites on the second blacklist.)
COICA is a fairly short bill, but it could have a longstanding and dangerous impact on freedom of speech, current Internet architecture, copyright doctrine, foreign policy, and beyond. In 2010, if there’s anything we’ve learned about efforts to re-write copyright law to target “piracy” online, it’s that they are likely to have unintended consequences.
This is a censorship bill that runs roughshod over freedom of speech on the Internet. …
… this bill allows the government to suppress truthful speech and could block access to a wealth of non-infringing speech, and the end result will do little to protect artists or mollify the industries that profit from them. Stay tuned for more analysis, information, and steps you can take to fight Internet censorship.