If Internet censorship is good enough for China it’s good enough for the USA as recent rulings on copyright law have demonstrated to peer-to-peer (p2p) file sharing sites like Limewire and BitTorrent portals like IsoHunt.
At issue is the concept of secondary liability for enabling copyright infringement. Sites like IsoHunt do not store files, copyrighted or otherwise, but they do provide connectivity between strangers who share copyrighted movies, music, software applications as well as non-copyrighted information.
The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which is the guardian of copyrights for the movie industry, and IsoHunt are at the center of the fray. The party of the first part has sued the party of the second part for being enablers of a world-wide file sharing party among parties of the third part. The MPAA won but exactly what they won isn’t very clear because our court system needs to split hairs into tinier parts.
Part one, which IsoHunt is appealing, was a shut down order to disconnect the site’s p2p connections (trackers) as of April 5th. Now IsoHunt is just like Google except that when a search points to a Torrent portal that hasn’t been sued by the MPAA, and there are several dozen of them, IsoHunt adds extra information about the download.
And here is where the censorship factor enters the ring. If a user searches a movie name like “Avatar” the MPAA doesn’t want any download source to appear. Rather than sue every p2p into the ground where like weeds they are sure to reappear, the MPAA is also asking the court to order the censorship of keywords just like China does with searches like “Tiananmen Square.” Except that where China’s censorship amounts to a few hundred keywords, the USA’s would extend to thousands that describe movies and songs. Forget that “avatar” refers to more than the movie; it will be one of the many forbidden search terms in the brave new world of the copyright police. At this writing IsoHunt.com has redirected itself to IsoHunt.hk as in Hong Kong to protest the keyword censorship proposal.
Those who think keyword censorship is beyond the absurd will do well to remember how good the MPAA and it’s music-minding cousin, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), are at getting their way. If the same judge who ruled against IsoHunt doesn’t grant their wish, they can always turn to their campaign donation-lovin’ pals in Congress as they did in 1995 with the passage of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which the MPAA and RIAA literally wrote for themselves.