Donna Wentworth notes in her blog PDEA + Induce = Very Bad Law, that the House has passed the Piracy Deterrence and Education Act (H.R. 4077). Wentworth kindly posted the floor debate in her blog which I found very interesting to read. None of the congressman spoke in opposition to the bill, nor did it seem to take very many findings to convince the majority of the necessity of the bill.
I would like to comment on some of the sections of the bill, and the few findings that committee did come up with. All of the quotes are taken from Wentworth’s blog.
First, SEC. 103. VOLUNTARY PROGRAM OF DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE.
(a) Voluntary Program.--The Attorney General is authorized to establish a program under which the Department of Justice, in cases where persons who are subscribers of Internet service providers appear to the Department of Justice to be engaging in copyright infringing conduct in the course of using such Internet service, would send to the Internet service providers warning letters that warn such persons of the penalties for such copyright infringement. The Internet service providers may forward the warning letters to such persons.
At first glance, this program seems like a good alternative in light of all the prosecution of young people that is currently happening. As one congressman says, this way parents can be informed that their children are involved in illegal activity, this can act as a warning to giving parents a chance to educate or punish the child as they see fit before a very costly lawsuit is filed against them.
Then with further contemplation, I began to realize what this meant. The government will be monitoring all of our activity on the internet. They will issue the service providers warnings that their customers are breaking the law and force ISP’s to locate the user that is infringing and forward on the warning letter. This is interesting since the congressional findings indicate that the PDEA is needed to prevent privacy threats.
SEC. 102. FINDINGS. The Congress finds as follows:
(5) The security and privacy threats posed by certain peer-to-peer networks extend beyond users inadvertently enabling a hacker to access files. Millions of copies of one of the most popular peer-to-peer networks contain software that could allow an independent company to take over portions of users' computers and Internet connections and has the capacity to keep track of users' online habits.
As Lawrence Lessig says in his book Free Culture, pg 161, the law radically changes with the ease at which the law can be enforced.
It is as if your car transmitted the speed at which you traveled at every moment that you drove; that would be just one step before the state started issuing tickets based upon the data you transmitted.
Theoretically, people should not be breaking the law in the first place, and the government has the duty to enforce the law. But this raises issues of privacy and freedom of speech that our society deeply values. This law will reinforce the paranoia that "Uncle Sam is watching you!"
But luckily for us, there is a limitation on the Program.
SEC. 103. VOLUNTARY PROGRAM OF DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE.
(b) Limitations on Program.—
(1) EXTENT AND LENGTH OF PROGRAM.--The program under subsection (a) shall terminate at the end of the 18-month period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act and shall be limited to not more than 10,000 warning letters.
(d) Reports to Congress.--The Attorney General shall submit to the Congress a report on the program established under subsection (a) both at the time the program is initiated and at the conclusion of the program.
I understand that the act is perhaps just a test or an experiment. One in which the government is trying to educate the public, and perhaps threaten them, without the cost of prosecution. But if congress has found:
(3) The most popular peer-to-peer file trading software programs have been downloaded by computer users over 600,000,000 times. At any one time there are over 3,000,000 users simultaneously using just one of these services. Each month, on average, over 2,300,000,000 digital-media files are transferred among users of peer-to-peer systems.
How would sending out 10,000 warning letters make even a dent in the millions of users that probably deserve one? As far as a report goes, I am guessing the type of information that would be beneficial to know is if the amount of illegally sharing copyrighted music was reduced by such warning letters. However, it has been discussed many times that the factors involved with this issue are two vast to determine which one is having an affect on copynorms. What if in the 18 months of the act’s time line, a company comes out with technology that is easily implemented and very hard to circumvent, therefore reducing the amount of infringement? Is the government’s report going to incorporate other factors into it?
As Mr. Smith from Texas points out:
I have heard from songwriters, video store owners, software publishers, and game developers who feel the impact of such piracy every day. They have urged Congress to help them educate the public about the harms of piracy while also warning and penalizing those who continue to steal from others.
And Mr. CONYERS points out:
The content industries provide this country's number one export; in fact, copyrighted content provides a positive trade balance of approximately $89 billion. Clearly, our content is a valuable resource that deserves protection.
Unfortunately, no one seems to have heard what the public is saying, and what the statistics are showing. The internet has changed the world of copying, and it is not that old copyright laws need to be enforced better. The problem is that the copyright laws need to be revised as to deal with the new digital era in a way that still promotes creativity and innovation. Not one of the congressmen opposed the bill, and no argument was heard on the floor discussing problems with the bill. Perhaps it is only the special interest of the multi-billion dollar industry that Congress is listening to.
Wentworth’s main concern is when both this bill and the INDUCE Act are reviewed in the Senate, if time is running out, and law makers decided to combine these acts, this will generate very bad legislation.