I wrote earlier about how the new PROTECT IP Act guts parts of the DMCA, but as you dig deeper, it’s looking even worse. The original (and now updated) article focused on the use of the term “interactive computer service,” which was in a draft copy of the bill. At the last minute, that was changed instead to be “information location tool.” While, at first, this may seem to be a narrower definition, there are some serious concerns that this effectively makes it illegal tolink to any website that is accused of being “dedicated to infringing purposes.” That’s because an “information location tool” is defined under current law to be: a “directory, index, reference, pointer, or hypertext link.”
Yes, you read that correctly: a link is an “information location tool” and such tools may be barred from pointing to sites deemed “dedicated to infringing” purposes. That seems like a massive breach of the First Amendment. If there is relevant information, as someone covering the news, why should I be prevented from linking?
Making matters even worse is a companion bill introduced by Senators Amy Klobuchar, John Cornyn and Christopher Coons, which would ratchet up charges for sites that stream infringing works to a felony. The specific text of the bill is not yet public, and it’s likely that it just extends the “public performance” rights to section 506a of the Copyright Act (which only covers distribution and reproduction rights today). But, that leaves open a huge question of what is considered a “public performance” and how you define “streaming” in relation to a public performance. I can see it reasonably applying to a site hosting the content and streaming it… but what about an embed or a link, in which the content never touches the site in question at all? Tragically, we’ve already seen that the feds consider merely linking or embedding to be a form of a felony — so it appears this bill is designed to make that even clearer, and that is really dangerous.
Put it all together, and our elected officials are now claiming that linking to something can be a felony. Yeah. Scary.
It seems that we really should highlight the list of Senators who have sponsored these bills, and who are telling you that linking to content should be considered a felony. The first bill is sponsored by:
- Patrick Leahy
- Orrin Hatch
- Chuck Grassley
- Charles Schumer
- Dianne Feinstein
- Sheldon Whitehouse
- Lindsey Graham
- Herb Kohl
- Chris Coons
- Richard Blumenthal
- Al Franken <– Updated to include, missed him on the first pass
The latter bill is
- Amy Klobuchar
- John Cornyn
- Chris Coons, who has the distinction of sponsoring both dreadful bills
So, there you go. The Senators who think it’s okay for the government to put people in jail for linking.