News

Court Ruling a Dutch Treat for Backers of SOPA

1/16/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — A Dutch court has given studios, networks
and other content providers fodder for their argument
that the government needs to crack down on online video
piracy, ruling in favor of blocking access to the domain
names of infringing sites.

A court in the Netherlands last week ruled that
Dutch ISPs Ziggo and XS4All must block access to
website The Pirate Bay, according to Dutch antipiracy
group BREIN, which represents Dutch video
and music producers and sought the court order.

In the United States, two bills in Congress — the
PROTECT IP Act in the Senate and the Stop Online
Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House — would allow ISPs
to use website access-blocking technology to combat
online piracy.

At about the same time backers of those bills were
praising the Dutch court decision, however, Sen. Patrick
Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Sen. Judiciary
Committee, said last Thursday (Jan. 12) that he would
introduce a substitute to his PROTECT IP Act that
would not include domain-name blocking.

LEAHY DELETES DNS BLOCKING

“As I prepare a managers’ amendment to be considered during
the floor debate,” he said, “I will therefore propose that
the positive and negative effects of this provision be studied
before implemented, so that we can focus on the other
important provisions in this bill, which are essential to
protecting American intellectual
property online and the
American jobs that are tied to
intellectual property.”

The full Senate has scheduled
a procedural vote on the
blll on Jan. 24. The House version
of the IP protection bill,
the Stop Online Piracy Act
(SOPA), still gives Internet
service providers the ability
to block websites if a court
order can be secured.

But studios still argue DNS
blocking/filtering needs to
be in the arsenal in the fight
against piracy. “Unless technology
can be used to create
speed bumps to deter illegal behavior online, we will not
succeed” in discouraging online piracy, said Rick Cotton,
executive vice president and general counsel, NBCUniversal.
Comcast and its NBCU subsidiary continue to be leading
proponents of both content-protection legislation and
intellectual-property protection in general. The issue has
become even more important as the TV Everywhere model
of over-the-top video delivery continues to expand to more
players and platforms. The National Cable & Telecommunications
Association also strongly supports SOPA.

Opponents of SOPA, which include search engines —
Google most prominently — and consumer-electronics
companies, have argued that the increased authority it gives
content providers to combat alleged piracy, including the ability
to obtain a court’s approval
to block access to the domain
names of allegedly infringing
sites, threatens the openness
and even the viability of
the Internet. Content owners
suggest that charge is alarmist
and unfounded.

“The ruling by the Dutch
court means that the Netherlands
now joins other
countries, including Austria,
Belgium, Denmark, Finland
and South Korea, that have
asked ISPs to block access
to infringing websites,” said
Daniel Castro, senior analyst
with the Information Technology
and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). “This should help
reassure lawmakers that DNS blocking is a tried and tested
means for blocking access to infringing websites that neither
‘breaks the Internet’ nor harms free speech.”

That is a different take than that of ITIF honorary co-chair
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has strongly opposed SOPA
and proposed an alternative bill, the OPEN Act, which instead
treats the issue as one of illegal imports. Th e OPEN Act
would update U.S. trade laws to reflect that
illegally downloading protected content
— like a TV show or film — from a foreignowned
website is akin to illegally importing
foreign hard goods. It would expand the
powers of the International Trade Commission
to enforce copyright and trademark infringement
of online digital goods.

According to SOPA supporters, the Netherlands
court decision buttresses a decision
in an Antwerp, Belgium, court of appeals
last September in which two other ISPs
were also ordered to block Pirate Bay.

BLOCKING WORKED IN BELGIUM

Nielsen data provided by one of the studios
shows that Pirate Bay visits from Belgium
have decreased by 80% since November.
Additionally, following a decision by the
Italian Supreme Court that ISPs could block Pirate Bay, and
the application of a filter to block IP addresses and domain
names, visits to the site from Italy had dropped by 74%.

But SOPA opponents are concerned that sites will be blocked
on mere suspicion; that if those suspicions are wrong, the damage
will have already been done; that it is unclear what qualifi
es a site as infringing; and that DNS blocking could be used
as an end-run around network-neutrality rules.

“Many countries around the world require Internet censorship
for a variety of reasons — alleged copyright infringement,
hate speech, privacy, suppression of political dissent,”
Michael Petricone of the Consumer Electronics Association,
a SOPA critic, said. “The United States has taken a very different
approach. The content industries’ suggestion that we emulate
regimes that censor the Internet is short-sighted and
economically destructive. Instead, the United States should
remain the world’s foremost champion of a free and open Internet
and fight piracy through smart, targeted measures like
the OPEN Act.”

House Judiciary Committee chairman Lamar Smith (RTex.),
who introduced SOPA, tried to mark up the bill in December,
but postponed action until after a planned hearing
on cybersecurity issues raised during the marathon markup.
A hearing on the OPEN Act has been scheduled for Jan.
18 in the House Committee on Oversight and Government
Reform, which Issa chairs, with those security issues expected
to be addressed in that session.

September