US lawmakers are about to introduce a bill which, in an attempt to curb online piracy, could allow powerful media companies to ride roughshod over what is left of the open Internet.
The Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act (PROTECT IP) will allow the US justice Department to introduce a wide range of tools which will allow authorities and copyright holders to kill off web sites they don't like, according to Torrent Freak.
Based for the most part on the recently-rejected COICA proposal, the proposed act regurgitates the same tired old arguments about online piracy costing squillions of dollars in lost sales and putting hard-working American tax-payers out of jobs, which Big Media rolls out every time it wants Congress to walk to heel.
The bill will also seek to broaden existing legislation, which allows the seizure of US domain names accused of breaching copyright rules, to allow sites which relocate outside of America to be virtually shut down.
It gives US authorities the power to insist that search engines remove results pointing to such sites, force ISPs to block access, and stop advertising companies placing ads on sites reported for alleged wrong-doing.
Authorities will also be able to order credit card and other online payment companies like PayPal to stop taking payments from sites on the Big Media blacklist.
“If the court issues an order against the registrant, owner, or domain name, resulting from the DOJ-initiated suit, the Attorney General is authorized to serve that order on specified U.S. based third-parties, including Internet service providers, payment processors, online advertising network providers, and search engines," reads the proposal, continuing: "These third parties would then be required to take appropriate action to either prevent access to the Internet site, or cease doing business with the Internet site.”
But by far the scariest revelation in the proposed act is that it also allows 'private copyright holders' to use some of the same tools to obtain court orders to stop payment providers and ad networks from servicing sites which have irked them, without due process.
Picture a situation where a company like MediaCAT - which never created a frame of video in its existence but brought up the rights to a bunch of shoddy porn films in order to jump into bed with shamed speculative invoicing outfit ACS Law - could effectively close down any web site it chose to on little more than a whim.
In the past 12 months the US Government has seized more than 100 domain names it claims were involved in distributing copyrighted material, and has made half-hearted attempts to prevent anyone from redirecting users to the new domain which is inevitably set up using a non-US address within hours of closure, but we get the feeling the USA won't be happy until it controls very byte of data transferred across the globe.
While we don't condone piracy in any way shape of form, allowing Big Media lobbyists to have their way every time they throw their toys out of the pram, bolstered by ancient politicians who wouldn't know an IP address from an Aardvark, could ruin the Internet for all of us.
The sad fact of the matter is that, no matter how much unilateral legislation Congress lays in the way of the Internet, technology, and those who thrive within its warm embrace, will always move faster than politics.