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After SOPA protest day

by Walter Olson on January 20, 2012

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Among those closed today are Wikipedia, Reddit and Twitpic [Mashable, Kravets/Wired; Mike Masnick; Dan Fisher on yesterday's player-piano threat; our SOPA/PIPA coverage; Cato event tomorrow on Capitol Hill via David Boaz]. Matt Sherman: “Please note that what Google, Reddit and others are doing today is corporate political speech.” Flickr’s protest idea is brilliant: it’s letting users censor each other.

Update: lawmakers have been jumping ship on the bills over the course of the day, including Senate co-sponsor Mario Rubio (R-Fla.). (Bumped to keep on top of page).

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SOPA on the ropes?

by Walter Olson on January 14, 2012

Welcome news, if true: key members of Congress are said to be backing away from the rogue-sites legislation as currently written and in particular are willing to drop the hotly contested provisions on domain name blocking. [Timothy Lee, Sandoval/McCullagh, CNET, Mike Masnick/TechDirt] And suddenly the Obama administration is sounding skeptical notes too [Lee] As recently as last week the copyright enforcement bills were reported to be on a toboggan to quick passage [Industry Standard, earlier] More: Masnick.

Some advocates of the legislation cook the books when they count (and double-count and triple-count) the costs of piracy. [Julian Sanchez, Cato; Mike Masnick, TechDirt]

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SOPA fight heats up

by Walter Olson on December 29, 2011

Brad Plumer in the Washington Post summarizes the provisions of the bill as well as the state of play on it in Congress as of mid-month. Although much commentary has assumed that persons determined to visit blocked sites could readily find ways around the SOPA restrictions, David Post notes that the draft bill authorizes the Attorney General to seek injunctions against persons who assist in circumventing the law, which might include websites that publish “here’s how to evade SOPA blocking” information. Timothy Lee at ArsTechnica notes growing opposition to the bill among conservatives, while Joshua Kopstein at Motherboard reviews a comic markup session. Meanwhile, “Gibson Guitar & Others On SOPA Supporters List Say They Never Supported The Bill” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt] Earlier here and here.

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The proposed law is being promoted as a way of blocking piratical “rogue” sites, but once it’s up and working, and internet providers have begun automatically blocking sites from a list continually updated by the government, it won’t stop with copyright and trademark infringers. Extending the interdiction to other sorts of sites will be a relatively simple and straightforward matter:

With the legal framework in place, expanding it to cover other conduct — obscenity, defamation, “unfair competition,” patent infringement, publication of classified information, advocacy in support of terror groups — would be a matter of adding a few words to those paragraphs.

How long before a sentimental Congress yields to demands to block suicide- or anorexia-promotion sites, or perhaps those accused of glorifying the taking of illegal drugs or profiting from depictions of animal cruelty? [Julian Sanchez, Cato, more; earlier] More: Stephen DeMaura and David Segal, Roll Call (potential use against political candidates), Bill Wilson (ALG), The Hill, Stanford Law Review, “Don’t Break the Internet”.

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My Cato colleague Julian Sanchez argues that a bill rapidly moving through Congress would give far too much power to authorities to close down websites without due process, yet would be readily circumvented by actual IP pirates. More: Sanchez/Cato, BoingBoing, Declan McCullagh (software execs blast proposal), Derek Bambauer/Prawfs (“Six Things Wrong With SOPA”), Stewart Baker/Volokh.

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They “propose giving Congress unchecked new power over spending on political speech” [John Samples, Cato Policy Analysis] More on Citizens United here, here, here (Democrats’ platform), here, here (Michael Kinsley: case was “correctly decided”), here, here, here (Wendy Kaminer), here, here, here, here (unions as beneficiaries), even more, and on the “corporations aren’t people” sound bite and related rights-abolishing proposals, here, here, here, and here.

P.S. Self-recommending: forthcoming Michael McConnell in YLJ on Citizens United.

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As drawn up with help from left-leaning groups like the misnamed Free Press, it may sound like a good idea, but to judge by the analyses of my Cato colleagues Timothy Lee and Jim Harper, the operative word may be “sound.”

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Universal be not proud

by Walter Olson on March 21, 2012

Veoh, like YouTube, pioneered the idea of enabling users to self-post video to the Internet. Then Universal, the entertainment company and owner of many copyrights, began a particularly aggressive campaign of litigation against it. Though Veoh Networks won a judicial decision in its favor, Universal appealed, having also taken the unusual step of suing three Veoh investors personally. In December the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed Veoh’s victory, but in the mean time Veoh had declared bankruptcy. Company founder Dmitry Shapiro recalls:

As you can imagine the lawsuit dramatically impacted our ability to operate the company. The financial drain of millions of dollars going to litigation took away our power to compete, countless hours of executive’s time was spent in dealing with various responsibilities of litigation, and employee morale was deeply impacted with a constant threat of shutdown. Trying to convince new employees to join the company in spite of this was extremely challenging.

By the end, “The company that we had built, that was once valued at over $130 million was gone,” writes Shapiro. Ron Coleman writes:

Under the American Rule, the cost of maintaining a meritorious defense to relentless litigation is prohibitive and what fee-shifting is available favors is applied with sickening asymmetry, virtually always favoring the party to which legal fees mean the least.

According to Eric Goldman, “This case’s real result is that Veoh is legal, but Veoh is dead – killed by rightsowner lawfare that bled it dry.” Mike Masnick points out that Universal is still pursuing its action.

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Free speech roundup

by Walter Olson on March 10, 2012

  • Berkeley: “Police chief sends sergeant to reporter’s home after midnight to demand article revision” [Poynter] In 1932, a New York Congressman convened a hearing to blast theater critics for harming the welfare of Broadway shows [Philip Scranton, Bloomberg]
  • “Blasphemy and free speech” [Paul Marshall, Hillsdale "Imprimis," PDF] “Egyptian Christian Imprisoned for 6 Years for Insulting Mohammed” [Volokh]
  • What is it about Montana and election free speech these days? [Volokh] Judge denies Ron Paul campaign request to unmask source of anti-Huntsman video [Paul Alan Levy, earlier] “Eliot Spitzer Bucks Liberal Orthodoxy: ‘Citizens United Was Correct'” [TheDC] If you rely on the NY Times for what you know about Citizens United, you’re probably misinformed [Wendy Kaminer, Atlantic]
  • “In which Ben Bagdikian, alleged scourge of media monopolies, frets at the possibility of more TV channels” [BBC via Jesse Walker]
  • Guernsey as a haven for libel tourism? [Annie Machon] “Someday I will commission a study of the relationship between defamation lawsuit threats and illiteracy.” [@Popehat on Gawker item]
  • “Key Techdirt SOPA/PIPA Post Censored By Bogus DMCA Takedown Notice” [Mike Masnick]
  • Overly aggressive trademark lawyers? “Their mothers love them too, in a prone-to-sudden-weeping sort of way.” [Popehat; earlier on Louis Vuitton v. Penn Law case]

They understand not the wisdom of SOPA [Julian Sanchez, Cato at Liberty]

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January 23 roundup

by Walter Olson on January 23, 2012

  • Copyright violations on PIPA sponsors’ websites? [VICE] “A SOPA Analogy” [David Henderson]
  • DEA agent who mistakenly shot self loses appeal [BLT, earlier]
  • “And people say libertarians lack empathy”: AP adopts pre-emptively disapproving tone toward advances in pain control [Coyote; related, Alkon on Primatene Mist]
  • Cordray, NLRB recess picks allow President to reward key Democratic interest groups [Copland, Examiner] Litigation Lobby gunning for ban on consumer finance arbitration as Cordray priority [CL&P] Mike Rappaport on the recess appointment clause [LLL, earlier here, etc.]
  • Keystone’s just the half of it: US environmental funders push shutdown of Canada energy production [Vivian Krause, Financial Post]
  • Hot potato, or just hot business sector? “Credit Suisse Parts with Litigation Finance Group” [WSJ Law Blog]
  • Speaking of shoplifters in elected office [Harrisburg Patriot-News on Perry County, Pa. case h/t commenter A.A.; earlier on California case]

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