Tag Archives: Internet

The Reality of Asking ICANN to Unveil the Anonymous

One of the greatest strengths of the Internet, its ability to operate without right or regard for international borders, is also one of its most troubling. This truly global nature opens up unique opportunities that no other channel can reach but can also used to bypass strong legal frameworks.

Intellectual property is one of those affected areas, and it is for this reason that rights holders and authorities are trying to add a layer of accountability to commercial operations online.

ICANN Logo

ICANN Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Standing against these efforts is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Dedicated to blocking any initiatives that it fears will alter the early days of an Internet without limits – and often without respect for laws – this is an organization with its fingers in a lot of pies. And with its friends in high (tech) places, the EFF also has the funds and associated lobbying power that it denounces in other activist groups.

That said, it comes as no surprise to see the EFF rallying its troops for a debate around the responsibilities of ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – which is the US-based entity charged with keeping the Internet “secure, stable and interoperable.” 

That would be fine if the EFF had any intention of making its case in a calm and measured manner. After all, it is ICANN’s stated goal to hear from multiple stakeholders and come to a balanced conclusion about what the wider online community wants to see from the organization. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the past, tech sector-backed lobbying groups like EFF tend to take an extreme tack to their activism, rooting arguments in Orwellian language and playing on fear as a primary mode of influence.
That’s a requirement in this case, because there’s no reason to believe that legitimate online entities will be subject to some unprompted mass outing and stripped of their digital liberty by rights holders, as the tech lobbyists are beginning to paint this particular picture. ICANN president Fadi Chehadé  said as much last week in Washington, confirming that the organization will strictly avoid becoming any kind of “content police.”

The issue here is about identifying the bad actors online through ICANN, not molding the organization into judge, jury and executioner. That said, there is still a fundamental role for it to play in securing creative rights online, as its stated objective alludes to.

As a fundamental organizer of the Internet, ICANN cannot avoid its responsibility to aid authorities when a crime is committed. Where anonymity helps criminals, whether content thieves, data hackers, our worse, it should be lifted to help investigators shut down illegal operations.

As a side note, it’s worth remembering that this proposal is not yet final, but it being discussed by a working group at ICANN.  Despite being at such an early stage, EFF lawyers are already calling this idea “troubling,” citing a desire to prevent spam and other minor irritations, at least in comparison to the theft of creative works that anonymity can sometimes cloak.

“Respect our privacy” is the call on early EFF materials. This should really read “Respect Our Piracy,” as the organization once again lines up to fight the removal of a key provision for hiding those who own the domains facilitating content theft.

Australia’s New Copyright Bill Promises Action Against “Flagrant” Piracy

English: Australian flag seen flying in Toowoo...

Australian flag flying in Toowoomba, Queensland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Australia is our location for the latest clampdown on content piracy, as the country’s government floats new legislation that would significantly expand the ability of rights holders to challenge sites that host their work without permission.

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 proposes measures that would require carriers to block sites that are found to infringe on IP, or those who facilitate such infringement, with “flagrancy” or “disregard.” Such language clearly targets willful piracy, while offering a mechanism to flag infringement to services that are unwittingly being used to get around the law.

There has been some push back against the ability of plaintiffs to bring an unlimited number of blocking requests before the Australian courts to take action against them, but there are a number of checks and balances within the bill to ensure only legitimate complaints make it through.

First and foremost, the courts in which cases will be brought have significant room to interpret each claim on its own merits, or lack thereof. The legislation mentions “reasonable steps” in many sections, and grants judges the ability to “limit the duration of, or rescind or vary an injunction.” That provides a lot of space to send warnings, set expiration dates on penalties, and hear appeals based on improved behavior by infringing sites.

That last point is crucial, as a key part of intellectual property enforcement should be the ability for sites to realize their mistakes and rehabilitate to become legitimate content providers. As we’ve seen with the US Trade Representative’s “Most Notorious Markets” initiative, the mere act of flagging a site’s infringing activity can be enough to prompt a change. When attached to a court order and the threat of operations being curtailed, the law starts to give rights holders some legal bite, where in many cases they have only the bark of flagging piracy and hoping intermediaries will take care of the rest.

In Australia and around the world piracy really comes down to two camps, those who intentionally host infringing content for their own profit, and those who run a service that is abused by others to host said content. For the former, the examples of Megaupload and The Pirate Bay are the path that lies ahead, being pursued across the globe until illegal operations are shut down.

For those who lie in the more gray area of intermediary, there must be a process that raises the question of a piracy problem and requires the operation to act promptly to remedy it. Stamping out piracy on any platform, in Australia or hosted further afield, sets the stage for online carriers to run a completely legitimate service that operates on the right side of copyright law and attracts reliable investment on that basis.

When infringement is flagged but a service still opts to look the other way, or fight legal action, that’s where the line is crossed between being “unwitting,” and moves into the “flagrant” piracy that Australia’s new legislation will take aim at, should it pass into law. In that case, the number of block requests is of little concern.

What really matters is how any service accused of infringement makes its case, and how quickly it acts to remedy the piracy problem, if and when the court rules that one exists. Creators have neither the time, nor the inclination to spend filing for the removal of content from legitimate sites. For any situations where such examples slip through, it’s only right and proper that a trusted legal system be brought into play to dismiss the case.

Additional powers for creators to protect their intellectual property, balanced by the ability of a court to hear their complaints and judge them against the country’s legal framework. Beyond the usual scaremongering that occurs by those afraid of being caught with their hands in the cookie jar, such legislation should be welcomed with open arms by anyone who respects creativity and the intellectual property rights that come with it.

Does ICANN Hold the Key to International IP Protection?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, is a not-for-profit organization based in California, but charged with activities of global importance.

Plaque on the ICANN (Internet Corporation for ...

Plaque on the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) head office, Del Rey, California, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With a remit to preserve the operational stability of the Internet and provide appropriate representation for the international Internet community, developing policies that reflect this broad mission.

If that scope sounds wide, it should. ICANN holds a great deal of responsibility, on a technical level especially, operating servers that underpin Internet standards and managing major developments, such as the recent roll out of new top level domains around the world (why you’re seeing New York firms jump the .com ship for .nyc domain, and many artists adopting a .music address).

Indeed, what ICANN should and should not be involved with is an ongoing debate, as evidenced by recent concerns over its ability to cut off domains facilitating copyright infringement and other fraudulent activity.

Letters from the MPAA and RIAA asking ICANN to do more were last month labeled as requests for the organization to start “policing the Internet.” Again, this is a huge overstatement, designed to instill fear in the general public that studios and record labels are out to get them.

But this is a general request to bring ICANN on the side of creators and help to protect their rights. The organizations that represent them have simply asked that ICANN react to the “use of domain names for illegal and abusive activities, including those related to IP infringement.”  Essentially, this is a request to enforce laws that already exist and leverage their position to do more across international boundaries, where individual nations can run into bureaucratic barriers, depending on which other the country is home to the site infringing upon IP.

There is no concrete action in place, but the ultimate threat of taking a pirate or fraudulent domain should be a real one, albeit used . This is a move to align the ability of creators to protect their work by flagging infringement wherever it happens in the world and taking steps to remove it, not to arbitrarily take offline any site that is accused of piracy.

Basically, creators are asking that they be allowed to raise the red flag to ICANN for closer review, not push the red button on any site they flag.

 

 

Parallels to the Advertising Industry

There are plenty of scare tactics employed by open Internet activists when it comes to measures designed to curb copyright infringement. The ability to remove a site from global access is of course a significant power, but it’s important to remember why this occurs in the first place: these sites are stealing content for their own profit.

In cases like The Pirate Bay, the aim is so clear it’s in the name, so perhaps the public is less tolerant of overt piracy. When the lines are blurred by a mixture of seemingly legitimate business and hosted files that infringe copyright, however, there is a tendency to claim that those who own the rights to that intellectual property are overstepping the mark.

The reality is that any instance in which an online business claims legitimacy, yet hosts a large amount of content without permission from the owner, that business has a responsibility to police its own servers. If they neglect that responsibility, or simply choose to ignore copyright claims, the only recourse of IP owners in any country is to threaten to cut them off. As an entity with global reach to that end, ICANN is a logical organization to work alongside rights holders to make infringing sites aware that their online status is at risk.

There should certainly be a review process for any site that ICANN is asked to remove from its registry, and parallels can be found in the advertising industry, which just introduced a new anti-piracy and anti-fraud initiative with broad support.  

In this system, sites that host advertising are subject to various tests of legitimacy by an independent consulting body, before receiving a risk score that empowers advertisers to cut them out of their ad network selection. Cutting off this source of income from big brands is a real enough threat that any legitimate site worth its salt will work to clean up its act and request a review of its risk status. Meanwhile, the illegitimate sites that have no business model outside of ripping off original creative works will see a crucial source of revenue dry up.

There is no panacea to cure piracy on a global level, but it can certainly be curbed from sites that occupy the middle ground and simply need a nudge in the right direction. This works in some cases for the US Trade Representative office, as we noted in the case of its “Notorious Markets” name and shame report, and it will take organizations with global reach to effect similar

These initiatives need not be draconian, as so many activists automatically try to imply, but they must have sufficient teeth to spur infringing sites into action. ICANN is one intermediary that has the bite to help creators protect their work, while first using its bark to warn sites that are on its complaint list, giving them an opportunity to turn things around.