Internet Blackout Day Fires Up Digital Rights Activism Around the World

This article has been co-authored by Maira Sutton (@mairasutton) and Katitza Rodriguez (@txitua) from EFF

Yesterday was a defining moment for the global Internet community. The effects of the massive online blackout in protest of U.S. Internet blacklist legislation, SOPA and PIPA (H.R. 3261 and S. 968), were felt around the world as countless numbers of websites, including Google, Wikipedia, Mozilla, Reddit, BoingBoing, Flickr, Wired, and many others joined in the global action against over-broad and poorly drafted copyright laws that would break the fundamental architecture of the Internet. To quote [pdf] last year’s landmark Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion: “…Censorship measures should never be delegated to a private entity, and [..] no one should be held liable for content on the Internet of which they are not the author…” The massive opposition from both companies and individuals around the world demonstrates how much these and similar laws would hurt business and innovation, and most importantly, restrict online free expression.

But SOPA and PIPA are really only the tip of the iceberg. The same forces behind these domestic U.S. laws have continued to both push for other states to pass similar domestic laws, as well as to secretly negotiate international trade agreements that would force signatory nations to conform to the same legal standards. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Ley Doring (Mexico), Ley Sinde (Spain), Ley Hadopi (France) are only a few examples. Members of the copyright industry lobby such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI) are funneling huge amounts of resources into getting states to pass inherently flawed copyright enforcement laws. What results are laws that encroach on national sovereignty, overstep traditional principles of jurisdiction, harm innovation, and ultimately violate users’ rights.

Digital civil liberties activists and organizations internationally found the day of online action to be a golden opportunity to educate their constituents on the effects such laws would have on websites in their countries and the future of the free and open Internet. Recognizing the common thread of overbroad enforcement and technical defects that runs through these bills, the following organizations have taken a stance against the efforts of special interests to censor citizens and kill innovation in the name of preserving the entertainment industry’s business model.

U.S. spreads overbroad IP enforcement measures through secretive international agreements and threats towards trade sanctions

In recent years major copyright industry lobbyists have sought stronger power to enforce their copyrights across the world to preserve their business models. These efforts have been underway in a number of international fora including the G8 summit, transnational trade agreements such as ACTA and TPP, and the Annual Special 301 Process–a report with tiered “watch lists” of countries with supposedly deficient intellectual property laws and enforcement policies. As U.S. Public Interest Groups and EU Scholars have noted, SOPA includes a provision designed to further entrench U.S. IP rightsholders’ influence on other countries’ laws and policies. While the passage of SOPA and PIPA could certainly have longstanding consequences for societies and economies around the world, we hope the enormous attention shed on these two Internet blacklist bills raises international awareness of the impact of these copyright enforcement proposals sought by U.S. IP rightsholders worldwide.

La Quadrature Du Net, a French-based advocacy organization, stated:

This site has gone dark today in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT-IP Act (PIPA) discussed in the US Congress, as well as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), currently debated in the European Parliament. These initiatives amount to a global attempt to censor the Internet in the name of copyright.

The Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC), a Canadian-based advocacy group stated:

[SOPA and PIPA] is yet one more example of the harms that can result for an overly aggressive, no holds barred, U.S.-driven IP agenda. It imposes more restrictive standards on foreign intermediaries than the U.S. requires of its own Internet companies through its DMCA notice-takedown regime.

The Chilean digital rights advocacy group, Derechos Digitales, also framed their position against SOPA in light of the overreaching international copyright enforcement regimes:

So while many of us speak out against the U.S. bill, the governments of Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia and the United States are moving quickly on a new international agreement that reproduces one of the greatest threats of SOPA: censorship of Internet sites for possible infringements of copyright, giving police powers to Internet service providers. (Read here and here in Spanish)

Markus Beckedahl, Chairman of Digitale Gesellschaft, a German User Rights Group, explained to the German public:

If only half of the proposed legislation comes into force, this is going to have a huge negative impact on the internet. ACTA, PIPA and SOPA are of similar kind: Music and film industries try to destroy the net slice for slice – the so called salami tactics.

Read more here, here, here, and here (in German)

SOPA and PIPA would disrupt national sovereignty and harm local economies

In countries where policymakers are currently debating the need for website blocking proposals, the adoption of SOPA or PIPA will create pressure to mirror U.S. law regardless of any empirical evidence of its effectiveness or appropriateness. What is most disconcerting for individuals and enterprises outside the U.S. is the way in which SOPA and PIPA could effectively override their countries’ national laws and impose more restrictive standards on foreign Internet intermediaries than it does on U.S. Internet companies.

50 human rights organizations from around the world signed a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in opposition to PIPA, highlighting its serious jurisdictional and freedom of expression concerns:

…Creating a mechanism that requires a representative of a website to make a court appearance in the U.S. in order to defend themselves against an allegation of infringement would disproportionately impact smaller online communities and start-ups based abroad that do not have the capacity to address concerns in the United States.

Open Rights Group based in the United Kingdom also emphasized the due process implications of these overbroad U.S. Internet blacklist bills:

There are two reasons that Open Rights Group are supporting a protest aimed at US laws. First, the overly broad definitions and wording of the bills put any websites at risk of action from US authorities. Second, we face many of the issues with these copyright-related bills here in the UK: inappropriate enforcement measures, in particular website blocking; overly-broad or vague definitions and wording; and weaknesses in due process and redress.

Michael Geist, a leading Canadian legal scholar on digital civil liberties and copyright, drew attention to the impact SOPA would have in Canada and its parallels with ACTA and TPP:

While SOPA is proposed U.S. legislation, it has implications for all Canadians, including provisions that treat all Canadian IP addresses as if they were subject to U.S. jurisdiction. Moreover, Canada faces the same relentless copyright lobbying campaign. From the much-criticized digital lock rules found in Bill C-11 to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement to the proposal to extend the term of copyright protection in the Trans Pacific Partnership, Canadian copyright policy is increasingly shaped by the same groups promoting SOPA.

Global Voices Online, an international community of bloggers around the world, told their readers:

[PIPA/SOPA] would raise the cost of participation on [social media and other user generated sites] for all users worldwide, and could force many social media projects to shut down, especially smaller websites and businesses.

OpenMedia.ca, a Canadian-based advocacy group, warned:

As Canadian Internet users and online innovators, we have a lot to lose if SOPA is passed. SOPA could fundamentally reshape the Internet in the U.S., Canada, and the rest of the world. … Tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Gary Doer (Canada’s Ambassador to the U.S.) that Canadians are against SOPA.

Threatens human rights and access to information worldwide

Most of the criticism regarding SOPA and PIPA has focused on the way the bills would institute massive online censorship and fundamentally break the Internet in the name of intellectual property enforcement. These bills would encompass any foreign site accessible from the U.S. and give corporations and other private parties new powers to censor websites from around the world with court orders that would cut off domain names, payment processors, and advertisers.

Internet Governance Caucus, an international coalition of civil society organizations and individuals around the world participating at the UN Internet Governance Forum reaffirmed the free speech implications of Internet blacklist legislation:

We have made a decision to join the black out in protest of the arbitrary censorship of the Internet which violates people’s rights to responsibly use the Internet. We note with increasing concern the the various censorship mechanisms around the world including but not limited to India’s Intermediary Guideline Rules (IGR) nor the United States of America’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)and Protect IP Act (PIPA). Any country’s censorship mechanisms affect ordinary Internet users all over the world.

Amnesty International, a globally recognized organization fighting injustice and promoting human rights, noted that “[PIPA and SOPA] would create a powerful and unprecedented market incentive to censor user generated content. And their passage would signal very clearly to countries around the world that it is OK to sacrifice some rights in the name of some other good.”

Greenpeace, a global environmental organization sharply denounced the laws:

If SOPA/PIPA become law, sites like Greenpeace.org could go dark simply because one of our corporate targets files a claim that its intellectual property rights have been violated. No proof required, no court hearing.

Article 19, an international freedom of expression organization, stated:

[PIPA/SOPA] will stifle free speech, innovation and undermine Internet security, all for the sake of Hollywood studios.

Wednesday’s blackout day signifies a new era for the global digital civil liberties movement. Through blogs, tweets, and posts, thousands of organizations, activists, and individuals truly made it the success that it was. This has only been a sample of the great advocacy work that took place yesterday. Here are some other organizations, groups, activists and even political parties who participated on this very important day for the future of the Internet:

 

12 comments

  • [...] dei sostenitori della libertà d’espressione online sparsi in Europa, Asia e nelle America (qui, qui e qui [it]). Il tutto ha portato a una grande vittoria, dato che il Parlamento USA ha [...]

  • [...] can do when a large enough population can utilize a resource to centralize and organize together. January 18th, 2012 marked a momentous event in the history of the Internet, in which millions of individual people, [...]

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.