Occupy the web?

Author: Eddie Powell

Not only has the word “Wikipedia” entered into everyday language but the online encyclopaedia’s blackout of its service on 18 January 2012 has certainly prevented many of us from looking up a quick fact. (Particularly many students!)

The online encyclopaedia’s blackout is in protest against two anti-piracy laws currently being debated in the US. Google has also joined the protest by adding a statement on its homepage: “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the web!” The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) were designed to tackle online piracy, with emphasis being placed on illegal copies of songs and other forms of media. If the copyright holder were to discover that a foreign site is offering illegal copies of songs or movies, it could seek a court order that would require search engines, for example, to remove links to the site and also require advertising companies to cut off payments to it. The copyright holders would have a right to seek court orders against any site accused of “enabling or facilitating” piracy, which could potentially involve an entire website being shut down because it contained a link to an offending site. This may have implications on numerous websites that depend on customers uploading media content.

Across the pond, ISPs have faced similar legal hurdles in response to recent government legislation aimed at tackling online piracy, as we reported in “Takedown: no more case by case” (www.fladgate.com/takedown). In Europe, SABAM (a Belgian collecting society representing authors, composers and editors) unsuccessfully sought a court order compelling an ISP to block users accessing files containing musical work. The European Court of Justice concluded that an ISP could not be expected to actively monitor all of its customers’ data in order to prevent future IP-right infringement.

The technology industry’s stand against the proposed US bills is a further indication of the political strength that these companies now have, and it remains to be seen how much input they will have in the drafting of the proposed bill. As ever, if these bills are passed, another hurdle that the enforcement authorities will have to jump is how to go about policing the web. A long battle.

Watch this space (but maybe don’t “Google” it!).

Eddie Powell, Partner (epowell@fladgate.com)

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