Tag Archives: SOPA

A quick look at the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership or Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

13 May

The Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership or Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multi-nation trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property laws across the globe. The nine nations currently negotiating the TPP are the U.S., Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam. Like ACTA, the TPP is being negotiated in secret, and on a fast timetable. We don’t know what’s in the TPP IP chapter, or even what the U.S. trade representative is pushing for in this agreement. There is mounting criticism of the U.S. role in pushing the negotiations forward in secrecy, despite the public’s overwhelming disagreement with TPP goals.

“The TPP has been branded as a trade ‘negotiation’ by its corporate proponents, but in reality it’s a place for big business to get its way behind closed doors,” said Pete Rokicki of Occupy Dallas. “This anti-democratic maneuver can be stopped if the public gets active—just look at the movement that killed the ill-advised SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) law a few months ago. That’s why Obama’s trade officials lock the public, the press and even members of Congress from the trade negotiation process.”

One of the major criticisms is the lack of transparency. Trade agreements are often negotiated in secret, but it is the inclusion of a chapter on copyright and other IP measures that has people focusing on the TPP, much in the same way as people protested the discarded IP legislation SOPA/PIPA, other trade agreements like ACTA, and the provisions on IP legislation that were subsequently removed from CISPA.

There has been criticism of some provisions relating to the enforcement of patents and copyrights alleged to be present in leaked copies of the US proposal for the agreement. Overall, the USTR proposal for the TPP intellectual property chapter would:

  • Include a number of features that would lock-in as a global norm many controversial features of U.S. law, such as endless copyright terms.
  • Create new global norms that are contrary to US legal traditions, such as those proposed to damages for infringement, the enforcement of patents against surgeons and other medical professional, rules concerning patents on biologic medicines etc.
  • Undermine many proposed reforms of the patent and copyright system, such as, for example, proposed legislation to increase access to orphaned copyrighted works by limiting damages for infringement, or statutory exclusions of “non-industrial” patents such as those issued for business methods.
  • Would eliminate any possibility of parallel trade in copyrighted books, journals, sheet music, sound recordings, computer programs, and audio and visual works.
  • Requires criminal enforcement for technological measures beyond WIPO Internet Treaties, even when there is not copyright infringement, impose a legal regime of ISP liability beyond the DMCA standards.
  • Requires legal incentives for service providers to cooperate with copyright owners in deterring the unauthorized storage and transmission of copyrighted materials.
  • Requires identifying internet users for any ISP, going beyond U.S. case law, includes the text of the controversial US/KOREA side letter on shutting down web sites.
  • Requires adopting compensation for infringement without actual damages.
  • For copyright and trademark, criminal punishment would apply even to non-for-profit infringement.

The proposals have been accused of being excessively restrictive, providing intellectual property restraints beyond those in the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and ACTA.

The US trade representative is clamping down on public participation to minimize the spread of information which challenges their hard-line IP maximalist agenda that seeks to empower corporations at the expense of public health and knowledge. In addition to increasing reliance on intersessionals, like this week’s Santiago meeting, where stakeholders are not given a forum to participate, USTR has now effectively reduced stakeholder participation in the official negotiating rounds by eliminating their opportunity to give presentations to negotiators in an official forum.

SOPA’s defeat proved that the netroots can beat IP maximalism and rulemakings from Washington designed to curb Internet freedom, while the populist response to ACTA has shown that policy laundering attempts by industry and their allies in government will face serious resistance. Ambitious, secret economic agreements have been defeated before through public awareness and organizing.

Anonymous, Decentralised And Uncensored File-Sharing Is Booming

7 May

The file-sharing landscape is slowly adjusting in response to the continued push for more anti-piracy tools, the final Pirate Bay verdict, and the raids and arrests in the Megaupload case. Faced with uncertainty and drastic changes at file-sharing sites, many users are searching for secure, private and uncensored file-sharing clients. Despite the image its name suggests, RetroShare is one such future-proof client.

The avalanche of negative file-sharing news over the past weeks hasn’t gone unnoticed to users and site operators.

From SOPA to Megaupload, there is a growing uncertainly about the future of sharing.

While many BitTorrent sites and cyberlockers continue to operate as usual, there is a growing group of users who are expanding their horizons to see what other means of sharing are available if the worst case scenario becomes reality.

Anonymous, decentralised and uncensored are the key and most sought-after features. For some this means signing up with a VPN to make their BitTorrent sharing more private, but new clients are also generating interest.

Earlier this month we wrote about Tribler, a decentralised (not anonymous) BitTorrent client that makes torrent sites obsolete. We’ve covered Tribler for more than half a decade, but it was only after our most recent post that it really took off with more than a hundred thousand downloads in a few days.

But there are more file-sharing tools that are specifically built to withstand outside attacks. Some even add anonymity into the mix. RetroShare is such a private and uncensored file-sharing client, and the developers have also noticed a significant boom in users recently.

The RetroShare network allows people to create a private and encrypted file-sharing network. Users add friends by exchanging PGP certificates with people they trust. All the communication is encrypted using OpenSSL and files that are downloaded from strangers always go through a trusted friend.

In other words, it’s a true Darknet and virtually impossible to monitor by outsiders.

RetroShare founder DrBob told us that while the software has been around since 2006, all of a sudden there’s been a surge in downloads. “The interest in RetroShare has massively shot up over the last two months,” he said.

“In January our downloads tripled when interest in SOPA was at its peak. It more than doubled again in February, when cyberlockers disabled sharing or shut down entirely. At the moment we are getting 10 times more downloads than in December 2011.”

RetroShare’s downloads at Sourceforge.

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RetroShare’s founder believes that there is an increased need for security, privacy and freedom among file-sharers, features that are at the core of his application.

“RetroShare is about creating a private space on the Internet. A social collaboration network where you can share anything you want. A space that is free from the prying eyes of governments, corporations and advertisers. This is vitally important as our freedom on the Internet is under increasing threat,” DrBob told TorrentFreak.

“RetroShare is free from censorship: like Facebook banning ‘obscene’ breast-feeding photographs. A network that allows you to use any pseudonym, without insisting on knowing your real name. A network where you will not face the threat of jail, or being banned from entry into a country for an innocent tweet.”

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It’s impossible to accurately predict what file-sharing will look like 5 years from now. But, a safe assumption is that anonymity will play a more central role than it ever has.

Recent crackdowns have made operators of central file-sharing sites and services more cautious of copyright infringement. Some even went as far as shutting down voluntarily, like BTjunkie.

In the long run this might drive more casual downloaders to legitimate alternatives, if these are available. Those who keep on sharing could move to smaller communities, darknets and anonymous connections.

The SOPA/PIPA Controversy

14 Apr

The SOPA/PIPA Controversy

Rights owners have long struggled to protect their intellectual property in the digital era. Two decades of instant copying and high-speed broadband are to blame for a significant downturn in cinema receipts and individual unit sales of CDs, DVDs and software.  Rights holders have levied accusations that search engines have profited from linking advertising revenue to sites that host infringing material.  To combat copyright infringement, rights owners have undertaken a multi-pronged approach to tackle illegal file-sharing and other ‘pirated’ content. Measures taken have included education, pushing for the imposition of sanctions – both criminal and civil, and pressuring national legislatures to propose tougher legislation granting rightsholders’ broad authority to shut down infringing sites ultimately creating economic scarcity for creative work. SOPA in the US House of Representatives, and its companion legislation in the US Senate, the PROTECT IP Act or PIPA, attempt to address the perceived problem of non-US websites engaged in infringing activity.  Because these so-called “rogue” websites have domain names registered outside of the US (for example, “.uk” rather than “.com”) and are hosted on servers outside of the United States, they are out with the jurisdiction of American courts and the existing enforcement mechanisms under US law. (SOPA and PIPA are part of a broader enforcement strategy, including the federal government’s seizure of hundreds of domain names registered in the United States and criminal prosecutions brought against the operators of web site, “Megaupload.com”.)  Although the bills have technical differences, their basic approach is the same.  They would require intermediaries subject to US jurisdiction to block access to the foreign websites, or to prevent the flow of revenue to these sites.  More specifically, SOPA and PIPA would authorise in rem lawsuits in US courts against a domain name associated with a site dedicated to infringing activity.  If the court found that the website met the statutory standard, the court would issue an order which would be served on four categories of intermediaries. ISPs would be required to prevent the domain name from resolving to an Internet protocol address.  In other words, when a user typed the domain name of the non-US site into his browser, the service provider would not connect the user to the non-US website. Search engines (for example, Google, Bing or other sites that direct users to other online locations) would be required to disable links to the non-US site. Payment systems (for example, Visa or MasterCard) would be required to refuse payment transactions between customers with US accounts and the account used by the operator of the non-US site.  Internet advertising networks (for example, Google AdWords or AdSense) would not be able to place advertisements on the non-US site or have sponsored links to the non-US site.

If intermediaries did not comply with an order, they would be subject to enforcement proceedings.  SOPA and PIPA provoked the following sharp criticisms from Internet companies and users. Although the bills’ sponsors said that they were targeting the “worst of the worst” foreign websites, the bills, as introduced, applied to both US and non-US websites.  Moreover, a small amount of infringing content within a large website could, conceivably, trigger a remedy that would apply to the entire website.  Compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s (DCMA) notice-and-takedown procedures would not provide a safe harbour.  Thus, websites that host user-generated content, including cloud-computing sites, could be affected. All four types of actions required by intermediaries raised concerns, because they were targeted at websites rather than specific content within those websites. These were blunt instruments that could lead to the termination of the provision of lawful as well as unlawful content.

The domain name and search engine blocking remedies were particularly controversial.   Both approaches are used by governments which restrict free expression.  Thus, US endorsement of these methods to block access to content that the US government considers illegal (i.e. IP infringing) would legitimate other countries’ use of these methods to block access to content they consider illegal (e.g., criticism of the government).  Indeed, a letter from Members of the EU Parliament stated that “blocking of websites, by DNS or otherwise, severely undermines America’s credibility in the global information society.”[1]  Google has fully complied with DMCA requirements for rapid “take-down” of videos that conflict with intellectual property owners’ legitimate claims. Google has also gone much further than the DMCA requires, by implementing a comprehensive “Content ID” system to pro-actively flag uploaded content matching the “signatures” provided by content owners (resulting in various actions, some of which are punitive in nature). Some observers would argue that this latter feature can sometimes be too aggressive, by flagging content that actually meets “fair use” requirements. Additionally, take-down tools (or legal threats and actions) are sometimes used by governments not to enforce copyright restrictions per se, but in reality for raw censorship of political or religious material that is considered to be undesirable or offensive to particular groups — in the process sometimes cutting off access to those videos to everyone around the planet.

Domain name blocking also has the potential to introduce cyber-security vulnerabilities.  Court-mandated domain name blocking requires service providers to return authenticated and unencrypted responses to domain name queries in contravention of emerging cyber-security protocols.  Moreover, as users attempted to circumvent the domain name blocking they would use foreign domain name service providers that did not comply with US government cyber-security standards. Because both bills provide for private rights of action, the volume of cases could be very large, and the intermediaries would need to take action with regard to many sites, at great expense. 


[1]BAND, J. 2012. SOPA and Its Implications For TPP [Online]. Available: http://infojustice.org/archives/7546 [Accessed 13 April 2012].