Today, the MPAA and other movie industry groups sent a letter to the Senate urging them to pass S. 968, the PROTECT IP Act. The letter attempts to handwave away real questions about the bill’s effects on security and free speech with some awfully weak arguments embedded within its refrains of “piracy is a problem” and “we are a big industry.”
No one contests that movies are a big industry, or that there’s a lot of infringement on the Internet. But those aren’t the questions before Congress. The question really is whether S. 968 does any net good. And from here, it certainly doesn’t look like it.
Effects on DNS and Cybersecurity
The bill would have court orders issuing to ISPs across the US, telling them to redirect requests to targeted domain names. As some of the most respected experts in DNS architecture and computer security have found, the bill’s orders would be directly in conflict with the security provisions of the DNSSEC security initiatives.
The MPAA contests this, but provides no explanation of why or how the experts are wrong. Without acknowledging the paper or offering any concrete evidence, it simply asserts that the bill and DNSSEC can play nice. They also offer up the red herring that people block malware and spam and filter porn without breaking the Internet:
Yet technology is already in use today to filter out malicious software and spam, or to allow parents to limit their children’s exposure to inappropriate material online, with no impact on the Internet’s infrastructure.
Of course, the particular techniques used in porn filtering are a far cry from DNS-blocking court orders. That’s just not really mentioned in the letter. So we get a “he said, she said” pas de deux about Internet architecture and security, except one side is populated by engineers who helped build the thing, and on the other, you have industry lobbyists.
DNS Blocking is Ineffective
There’s also the question of how easy it is to get around the law’s blocking. The MPAA claims that “common sense”
urges the dismissal of suggestions that a vast number of Internet users will reconfigure their computers and jeopardize performance and safety by using less reliable, foreign domain name servers that reside outside the jurisdiction of U.S. courts.
I’m not sure how that’s common sense. It takes one click on a link to download a browser plugin that neatly renders an entire provision or two of the bill completely moot. Vast numbers of Internet users have clicked many many more times than that to get to infringing content.
After claiming that procedural safeguards do away with any free speech implications, the letter also pulls a nice little rhetorical trick in arguing that there are no constitutional questions about the bill:
The Protect IP Act is not designed to regulate the entire Internet. Nor is it designed to counter the vast array and forms of online infringement,which are subject to various laws already on the books.…Copyright violations are not protected by the First Amendment…
Neither is obscenity, yet somehow obscenity and decency laws keep getting struck down on constitutional grounds. Obviously, that’s because the measure of a law’s constitutionality isn’t what it intends to do, but what it actually does.
The letter goes on to wrap itself in the flag:
The real threat to freedom of expression, to American innovation, and to robust economic growth comes when thieves are allowed to steal the products of our most creative people and companies without fear of laws or consequences.
So the “real threat to freedom of expression” isn’t the proposal to apply the tools of censorship to the Internet; it’s their industry’s shrinking profit margins. As if there were only one threat to freedom of expression; and as if the expression we value most in the world is only made with the promise of payment. Copyrights have their place in encouraging expression, but it takes a finely tuned narcissism to think that copyright infringement is the threat to freedom of expression. This sounds like a lot like the straight-faced, utterly ridiculous assertion that copyright should enjoy the same level of standing as the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and communication.
If these are the best talking points the MPAA can assemble, there’s not a whole lot that can justify PROTECT IP. They amass questionable numbers on the scope of their problems, provide no evidence that their proposals will actually solve the problems, and ignore any objections along the way. That’s a recipe for a disaster of a law, but only if legislators accept the spin and evasions at face value.