June 25, 2008

The FCC Stumbles into Internet Filtering

Filed under: Add new tag, censorship, law — wseltzer @ 4:46 am

What could be bad about free wireless Internet access? How about censorship by federally mandated filters that make it no longer “Internet.” That’s the effect of the FCC’s proposed service rules for Advanced Wireless Service spectrum in the 2155-2180 MHz band, as set out in a July 20 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Acting on a request of M2Z Networks, which wants to provide “free, family-friendly wireless broadband,” the FCC proposes to require licensees of this spectrum band to offer free two-way wireless broadband Internet service to the public, with least 25% of their network capacity. So far so good, but on the next page, the agency guts the meaning of “broadband Internet” with a content filtering requirement. Licensees must keep their users from accessing porn:

§ 27.1193 Content Network Filtering Requirement.
(a) The licensee of the 2155-2188 MH band (AWS-3 licensee) must provide as part of its free broadband service a network-based mechanism:

(1) That filters or blocks images and text that constitute obscenity or pornography and, in context, as measured by contemporary community standards and existing law, any images or text that otherwise would be harmful to teens and adolescents. For purposes of this rule, teens and adolescents are children 5 through 17 years of age;

(2) That must be active at all times on any type of free broadband service offered to customers or consumers through an AWS-3 network. In complying with this requirement, the AWS-3 licensee must use viewpoint-neutral means in instituting the filtering mechanism and must otherwise subject its own content—including carrier-generated advertising—to the filtering mechanism.

(b) The AWS-3 licensee must:

(1) inform new customers that the filtering is in place and must otherwise provide on-screen notice to users. It may also choose additional means to keep the public informed of the filtering, such as storefront or website notices;

(2) use best efforts to employ filtering to protect children from exposure to inappropriate material as defined in paragraph (a)(1). Should any commercially-available network filters installed not be capable of reviewing certain types of communications, such as peer-to-peer file sharing, the licensee may use other means, such as limiting access to those types of communications as part of the AWS-3 free broadband service, to ensure that inappropriate content as defined in paragraph (a)(1) not be accessible as part of the service.

There are clear First Amendment problems with government-mandated filtering of lawful speech. The Supreme Court reminded us that a decade ago, striking the Communications Decency Act, the first unconstitutional effort to censor the Net. It’s still lawful for adults to view and share non-obscene pornography, and still unlawful for the government to restrict adults from doing so. But this rule digs deeper architectural problems too.

Like or hate lawful pornography, we should be disturbed by the narrow vision of “Internet” the filtering rule presupposes, because you can’t filter “Internet,” you can only filter “Internet-as-content-carriage.” This filtering requirement constrains “Internet” to a limited subset of known, filterable applications, ruining the platform’s general-purpose generativity. No Skype or Joost or Slingbox; no room for individual users to set up their own services and servers; no way for engineers and entrepreneurs to develop new, unanticipated uses.

Why? To block naked pictures among the 1s and 0s of Internet data, you need first to know that a given 11010110 is part of a picture, not a voice conversation or text document. So to have any hope of filtering effectively, you have to constrain network traffic to protocols you know, and know how to filter. Web browsing OK, peer-to-peer browsing out. You’d have to block anything you didn’t understand: new protocols, encrypted traffic, even texts in other languages. (The kids might learn French to read “L’Histoire d’O,” quelle horreur!) “Should any commercially-available network filters installed not be capable of reviewing certain types of communications, such as peer-to-peer file sharing, the licensee may use other means, such as limiting access to those types of communications as part of the AWS-3 free broadband service, to ensure that inappropriate content … not be accessible as part of the service.”

The Internet isn’t just cable television with a few more channels. It’s a platform where anyone can be a broadcaster – or a game devleoper, entrepreneur, activist, purchaser and seller, or inventor of the next killer app. Mandated filtering is the antithesis of dumb-pipe Internet, forcing design choices that limit our inventive and communicative opportunity.

Edit M2Z’s prepared text to just say no to filterband.

See also Scott Bradner, David Weinberger, Persephone Miel.

June 6, 2008

DMCA “Repeat Infringers”: Scientology Critic’s Account Reinstated after Counter-Notification

Filed under: Chilling Effects, DMCA, copyright, law — wseltzer @ 6:56 am

The Scientology critic known as “Wise Beard Man” returned to YouTube this week after successfully filing counter-notifications to copyright claims that had earlier been made against his account. The takedown and delayed return illuminate another of the lesser-known shoals of the DMCA safe harbor, the 512(i)(1)(A) “repeat infringers” consideration.

As Mark Bunker, the critic, describes it, he had initially set up a YouTube account under the name XenuTV, where he posted clips including commentary on Scientology. Some of these clips came from other sources, and two of them attracted DMCA takedown requests from Viacom, for “Colbert Report” clips in which Stephen talked about Scientology. These might well have been fair use, or he might have chosen to remove them, but as Bunker says, “Before I could act on the takedown notices and remove the offending clips, the accounts were canceled.”

Bunker began using a second YouTube account, XenuTV1, posting only clips of entirely his own material. His advice to the “Anonymous” critics made him a sort of elder statesman to the movement, and his account attracted over 10,000 subscribed viewers.

In April, however, this second account was abruptly canceled. Apparently, YouTube had discovered that it was Mr. Bunker’s second, after a canceled first, and interpreted the DMCA to compel termination of this second account.

The provision they were invoking was 512(i)(1)(A), which sets some conditions for service provider eligibility for shelter in the DMCA safe harbor:

“The limitations on liability established by this section shall apply to a service provider only if the service provider—
(A) has adopted and reasonably implemented, and informs subscribers and account holders of the service provider’s system or network of, a policy that provides for the termination in appropriate circumstances of subscribers and account holders of the service provider’s system or network who are repeat infringers”

Now the DMCA does not define “repeat infringers,” and no cases have yet done so, so it’s left to ISPs to determine how to do so. Copyright claimants urge that two takedown notices make someone a “repeat infringer” whose account must be terminated (let’s hope it’s just the account, and not the subscriber himself!). In contrast, noted copyright scholar and attorney David Nimmer suggests that the provision should be construed strictly, to require “repeat infringer” sanctions only against those who have more than once been found liable for copyright infringement after legal proceedings. Nimmer, Repeat Infringers, 52 J. Copyright Soc’y 167 (2005). Nimmer also notes that unless “repeat” is limited to the service at issue, all the major motion picture studios would be ineligible for online posting accounts, since all have had multiple copyright infringement judgments rendered against them.

Nor does the DMCA define “appropriate circumstances” for account termination, so mitigating factors might well be raised against the termination of any particular account. The DMCA pre-condition is open to interpretation.

It appears, however, that YouTube determined that the two Viacom notices (Feb. 2, 2007, and Jan. 15, 2008) levied against Mr. Bunker’s XenuTV account marked him as a “repeat infringer.” Therefore, to maintain safe-harbor eligibility, YouTube felt compelled to terminate the second account, XenuTV1, upon recognizing that it was the same individual. Notwithstanding a complete absence of copyright claims against the XenuTV1 account, YouTube apparently concluded the risks of continuing to host the marked “repeat infringer” were too great.

Notably, 512(i) is a general precondition to the safe-harbor. Failure to “adopt[] and reasonably implement[]” a repeat infringers policy in one instance could be used against a provider as an argument to deny it the benefits of safe-harbor protection in an entirely unrelated case. YouTube’s risk calculation in responding to Mr. Bunker’s accounts, therefore, was not merely whether Viacom would sue over the Colbert clips Mr. Bunker had posted and YouTube removed, but whether entirely different copyright holders, complaining about other accounts’ postings, would invoke a failure to remove Mr. Bunker’s account as non-compliance with the DMCA’s eligibility requirements and seek to hold YouTube liable for other users’ infringements.

Mr. Bunker’s story concludes successfully, however, thanks in part to Viacom’s good sense. YouTube invited Mr. Bunker to file counter-notifications for the Viacom clips, and he did so in mid-May, asserting that the “mistake or misidentification of the material” was in not recognizing its use as fair. Viacom’s acceptance of the counter-notifications allowed YouTube to remove the “infringer” stain from Mr. Bunker’s account. For his part, Mr. Bunker says he was supported in his counter-notifications by the public messages of support and group effort to contact YouTube and Viacom to lay the groundwork, including those of VictoireFlamel and The Masked Analyst, who has a series of videos explaining the DMCA and counter-notification. Bunker reports that Viacom’s attorneys said they “wouldn’t be hard-nosed about fair use clips.”

Ten to 14 days after the counter-notification, therefore, when Viacom did not go to court to press its original copyright infringement claims, YouTube allowed the XenuTV accounts’ reinstatement.

While Mr. Bunker’s story ends happily for fair use, another story this week illustrates the danger of taking DMCA notifications as the mark of “repeat infringement”: University of Washington researchers reported getting DMCA takedowns against their laser printers, allegedly for sharing copies of “Iron Man” and “Indiana Jones.” MPAA agents sent DMCA notices without any verification that material was available from the accused IP addresses, much less that the materials infringed copyright. Meanwhile, universities report that they get DMCA takedowns alleging infringement by “shared folders” even when filters such Audible Magic make sharing impossible by blocking any transmission of files.

If the DMCA as a whole is to have any coherence, providers shouldn’t lose DMCA protection or subscribers lose their hosting based on such flimsy allegations.

June 5, 2008

NYT Editorial Supports Copyright Rationality in Sports

Filed under: law, sports — wseltzer @ 12:34 pm

The New York Times has a nice editorial today on the Supreme Court’s denial of cert to the MLB’s claims to own fantasy baseball. That leaves the case where the Eighth Circuit did, saying that fantasy leagues created around major-league baseball facts are fair game, not the property of MLB. Great to see a major new outlet weighing in against the expansionary claims:

In recent years, corporations have been aggressively pushing the bounds of intellectual property — extending the length of copyrights to unreasonable lengths, for example, and patenting seeds. In the case of fantasy baseball, the courts have rightly cried foul.

The biggest fantasy in this case was Major League Baseball’s claim that its fans should pay to talk about the game.

In another editorial closer to home, Professor and Berkman Fellow Harry Lewis criticizes copyright’s encroachment on education and culture in the Harvard Crimson.

June 4, 2008

Incipient Intellectual Property

Filed under: Internet, law, music — wseltzer @ 3:35 pm

We talk a lot about the ways intellectual property stifles innovation once it attaches — the patent thickets created when dozens of companies claim rights to parts of the same widget-process, the hindrance to free expression and commentary posed by copyright clams to political imagery or culture — but lately, I’ve been wondering about the burdens of incipient intellectual property: when the vague promise of some potential future IP right causes people to share less and develop less value than optimal.

Incipient intellectual property is the false promise that “you might be the next big star,” that keeps some artists from appreciating the intermediate audience-building possibilities of Creative Commons licenses. It’s the remote prospect of patent that keeps scientists from publishing early-stage findings or sharing with potential collaborators lest they statutorily bar themselves from patenting later.

Does the possibility of outsize exclusive benefits from the IP lottery blind people to the much greater shared benefits of openness?

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