December 11, 2008 | By Tim Jones

MPAA Asks Obama for More Copyright Surveillance of the Internet

As part of their commitment to transparent and open government, the Obama Transition Team is posting the lobbying agendas of the groups it meets with for public review and comment. One of the more interesting documents to be found there is the Motion Picture Association of America's "international trade" agenda.

Some of the MPAA's agenda is reasonable, such as cracking down on commercial optical disc piracy. But much of it, if adopted, would result in a substantially less free and safe internet, at little or no actual benefit to the artists and workers the MPAA claims to represent.

Of course, this may not be immediately clear when reading the document, since it's all couched in DC lobbyist-speak. Here, then, is a guide to understanding what's really being talked about.

First:

"Achieving inter-industry cooperation in the fight against online piracy, including through automated detection and removal of infringing content is imperative to curb the theft of online content...

This kind of automated-detection technology has long been a favorite fantasy of the MPAA and affiliates. They've pushed for it on US campuses, in US states, in US trade law [PDF], and in Europe, so it's hardly surprising to see them pushing for country-wide requirements at the federal level.

The MPAA's faith in "filtering" is pure magical thinking. It presupposes invading the privacy of innocents and pirates alike by monitoring every packet on the Internet (which is bad enough when the NSA does it). And it ignores the reality of strong encryption, which will utterly defeat network filtering techniques (thus necessitating more intrusive alternatives — how about a copyright surveillance rootkit on every PC?). Sacrificing our privacy for the pipe-dreams of one industry is a bad idea.

These reasons and more were outlined by EFF in a 2005 white paper, and again last January in a memo to European lawmakers [PDF].

Next up:

"MPAA views recent efforts by the Governments of France and the United Kingdom to protect content on-line and facilitate inter-industry cooperation as useful models.

Here, the MPAA is advocating for a number of things, the most problematic of which is a "three strikes" internet termination policy. This would require ISPs to terminate customers' internet accounts upon a rights-holder's repeat allegation of copyright ingfringement. This could be done potentially without any due process or judicial review. A three-strikes policy was recently adopted by the French Senate, and may become the law if adopted by the French National Assembly next year.

Because three-strikes policies do not guarantee due process or judicial oversight of whether the accusations of copyright infringement are valid, they effectively grant the content industry the ability to exile any individual they want from the internet. Lest we forget, there is a history of innocents getting caught up in these anti-piracy dragnets. (Copyfighter Cory Doctorow has wondered what would happen if the MPAA's erroneous notices were subject to a similar three-strikes law.)

Thankfully, members of the European Parliament vehemently rejected these measures, resolving that "The cut of Internet access is a disproportionate measure regarding the objectives. It is a sanction with powerful effects, which could have profound repercussions in a society where access to the Internet is an imperative right for social inclusion." Let's hope the US government's decisions on this are as wise.

EFF outlined these concerns and more in our September 2008 comments to the US Trade Representative [PDF].

And, finally:

"MPAA has identified the following countries for priority trade policy attention in 2009: Canada, China, India, Mexico, Russia and Spain.

Translation: Not satisfied with wrecking the internet for US citizens alone, the MPAA would like the US government to pressure foreign governments to adopt the same harmful measures. This is made explicit by a look at, for instance, the International Intellectual Property Association's 2008 one-sheets on Canada [PDF] and Spain [PDF]: The MPAA wants these governments to institute mandatory internet filtering and three-strikes laws. Canada is being singled out by the MPAA because of its sensible rejection of the Canadian version of the US's deeply flawed Digital Millenium Copyright Act. In Spain, the MPAA is frustrated with rulings in 2006 that failed to punish Spanish citizens sufficiently harshly for file-sharing.

This week in the San Jose Mercury News, Ed Black, CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, described how adoption of the MPAA's international trade demands would deeply set back US innovation and foreign policy.

How the Obama administration will react to these demands remains to be seen. The adoption of a Creative Commons license for Change.gov content indicates that there just might at long last be a seat at the table in the White House for smart thinking on copyright issues. Hopefully the Obama Administration will prove strong enough to stand up to the MPAA's lobbying, and instead institute positive reforms of US copyright law.

If you'd like to share your thoughts on this matter with the Obama Transition Team, the MPAA's agenda is open to public review and comment on Change.gov.

Updated Dec 15: The original post mistakenly indicated that France's three-strikes law had already gone into effect.


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