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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: How will the new secret copyright treaty impact the entertainment community on the Internet?

Boing Boing broke down the details last week:

The internet chapter of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a secret copyright treaty whose text Obama’s administration refused to disclose due to “national security” concerns, has leaked. It’s bad. It says:

• That ISPs have to proactively police copyright on user-contributed material. This means that it will be impossible to run a service like Flickr or YouTube or Blogger, since hiring enough lawyers to ensure that the mountain of material uploaded every second isn’t infringing will exceed any hope of profitability.

• That ISPs have to cut off the Internet access of accused copyright infringers or face liability. This means that your entire family could be denied to the internet — and hence to civic participation, health information, education, communications, and their means of earning a living — if one member is accused of copyright infringement, without access to a trial or counsel.

• That the whole world must adopt US-style “notice-and-takedown” rules that require ISPs to remove any material that is accused — again, without evidence or trial — of infringing copyright. This has proved a disaster in the US and other countries, where it provides an easy means of censoring material, just by accusing it of infringing copyright.

• Mandatory prohibitions on breaking DRM, even if doing so for a lawful purpose (e.g., to make a work available to disabled people; for archival preservation; because you own the copyrighted work that is locked up with DRM)

Michael Geist, a Canadian law professor and expert in the Internet and e-commerce, is covering the treaty in detail at his blog. Rob Enderle at TechNewsWorld had this, in part, to say, and though it repeats some of Boing Boing’s points, they are well worth repeating:

Why something like this is kept secret becomes clear when you read the details. It would do horrid things to our privacy, restrict our rights to use media we have purchased, and squelch our ability to be creative. It would turn a huge number of children overnight into criminals and open us to a level of government oversight that would make the Bush administration look liberal by comparison.

ISPs would have to police user content and cut off Internet access and remove content when accusations of infringement were made, eliminating presumption of innocence and making the ISP into a law enforcement body. It would apparently kill fair use; you couldn’t even copy protected work that you originated (your own work). It would potentially override local laws and eliminate civil liberties — and none of this has been publicly vetted.

It takes the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act), one of the worst laws ever enacted when it comes to citizen rights, and effectively increases its authority both in depth and breadth, to cover more geographic areas and eliminate existing safe harbors.

Obviously, if this treaty becomes law, the impact will be felt across the Internet — across our entire culture both online and off. But what specific ripple effects will be felt with regards to movies, TV, DVD, the people who make them, and those of us who consume them and talk about them? How will the new secret copyright treaty impact the entertainment community on the Internet?

Obviously it will mean the end of YouTube, because no company will have the resources to vet hundreds of thousands of user contributions. Will it mean the end of Internet criticism, when all it will take to shut down a critic is an accusation — even an unfounded one — of copyright infringement… perhaps by quoting too many lines of dialogue or lyrics? Will all the freedoms we’ve discovered in being our own book and magazine publishers, movie studios, and record labels suddenly disappear… or only most of them?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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