Internet 1, Big Copyright 0

Some 11 and a half years ago, I was mad enough about a story in the news that I stayed up until 3:57 a.m. (according to the timestamp on the file) to write a column about it. That issue was a case called Universal v. Reimerdes, in which a federal judge had ruled it illegal to distribute the DeCSS DVD-unlocking software.

I knew that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” provisions made such a ruling possible. But it was something else to see it applied to a program with obvious fair-use potential–and to have people then act as if it were entirely feasible to halt the distribution of that file over the Internet. I just had to write about something so insultingly unfair and mind-boggingly stupid… assuming I could get the importance of it across to people who had never heard of DeCSS or the DMCA:

Last Thursday, a judge in New York City ruled that an obscure magazine called 2600, based in Middle Island, N.Y., can’t post an equally obscure program, DeCSS, on its Web site, or link to other sites that offer it. Few people have used this software, which unlocks a DVD movie’s encryption, and not many more seem to care.

They should. This lawsuit is all about the mix of fear and greed that is driving the entertainment industry to put tighter and tighter locks on its products–and whether consumers get to do anything about it.

That August 25, 2000 column in the Washington Post was the first of many copyright rants I’ve had occasion to write. A lot has changed since then–DeCSS, of course, never disappeared and has since been replaced by better software that I’ve used to make copies of my DVDs to watch on laptops without optical drives–but one thing had not. The entertainment-industry firms that had lobbied for the passage of the DMCA and cheered the DeCSS verdict had kept on getting their way in Washington. Never mind the larger size of the tech industry; at worst, Big Copyright might lose a round after an egregious overreach, but that setback would then go largely unrecorded.

That changed this week, thanks to a storm of protest over the Stop Online Piracy Act and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act. Both would have turned the Internet’s Domain Name System into a censorship mechanism; the former would have also given copyright owners a financial kill switch for sites accepting user-generated content. And both looked set to sail through Congress until people noticed and started getting righteously fed-up, culminating in yesterday’s blackout protests at sites from Wikipedia to

Those two bills have since taken a public beating–not just on tech-news sites, but on the evening news–and sponsors of each have been rushing to hit the Undo button on their support.  To judge from the more delusional press releases issued over the last 48 hours, I’m not sure that Hollywood even knows what hit it.

I would have liked to have seen this moment happen back in 2000, but this year will do.


10 thoughts on “Internet 1, Big Copyright 0

  1. Pingback: Bookmarks for January 18th, 2012 through January 19th, 2012 | PRCog's Gear Grindings

  2. “Somewhere I have a t-shirt with the DeCSS.c file printed on it.”

    That’s the thing, no? DVD Jon won. You can decrypt your DVD. You just can’t commercialize solutions for decrypting DVD’s. That was the moment when it became “Internet 1, Big Copyright 0”.

    If PIPA/SOPA were genuinely dead, then it’d be “Internet 2, Big Copyright 0”, but while we won a battle, the war is not yet over.

  3. Maybe you can expain this… SOPA is for foreign websites, but people keep saying that popular websites such as facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, and Wikipedia could be shutdown because they are facilitating copyright infringement. I thought that facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter, and Wikipedia are all US based websites. As such, they are already subject to US laws and could be shutdown without SOPA.

    Also, people keep talking like a website would be shutdown after a single complaint and that nobody would ever verify the complaint was valid. The owner of the website would NEVER be given a chance to respond to a request to remove the content.

    • SOPA’s funding-cutoff provisions apply to foreign and domestic sites alike–and use a dangerously loose definition of “facilitating copyright infringement.” To be held liable, a site doesn’t have to post other people’s copyrighted work itself, it merely has to be “taking, or has taken, deliberate actions to avoid confirming a high probability” of copyright infringement taking place. I’m pretty sure the very site we’re having this discussion on would wind up getting hit by this provision.

      Further, SOPA does not, in fact, require that a copyright holder prove that infringement is taking place before asking payment processors or ad hosts to cut off a site’s transactions. They only need to have a good-faith belief that infringement’s happening there.

      Finally, there’s no requirement that a copyright holder confirm that a site got the required notification. The site has five days to respond before the money stops. The notice didn’t actually arrive? The site’s owner was out of town? Too bad. The site’s bankrupt anyway.

      Seriously… this would have been an awful law. “Un-American” is not too strong of a phrase for it.

      – RP

      • I think you are making the funding provisions too simple. Other reports I have read indicate that under the bill, only the Justice Department can seek an injunction against a foreign website for which the primary purpose is illegal and infringing activity. The Justice Department must go to court and lay out the case against the site. This is quite different from the average copyright holder going to Google and telling them that one of their ads was for a company in Europe that had used one of their vacation photos without permission.

  4. I checked the Library of Congress website for the text of H.R.3261

    (c) Actions Based on Court Orders-
    (i) PREVENTING AFFILIATION- A payment network provider shall take technically feasible and reasonable measures, as expeditiously as possible, but in any case within 5 days after being served with a copy of the order, or within such time as the court may order, designed to prevent, prohibit, or suspend its service from completing payment transactions involving customers located within the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and the payment account–

    Base on my understanding of the above text, after the court has decided that a website is guilty of copyright infringement, they will issue a court order to the ad networks and payment processing companies. Those companies have 5 days to respond to the court order and block access. They don’t need to verify the claims or try to contact the website as the court has already made the decision. Unless the payment processor is out of town for five days and doesn’t respond to the court order, they don’t have a problem.

  5. Pingback: Help improve my SXSW panel: Why doesn’t Congress grok the Internet? | Rob Pegoraro

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