The Senate Judiciary Committee, apparently a wholly owned subsidiary of the Motion Picture Association of America, has reported out a bill that would allow the Justice Department to engage in prior restraint against essentially the entire Internet over alleged copyright infringement. The bill would allow the DOJ to force registrars to lock out domain names based on the content of a website and require all ISPs to take steps to prevent anyone from accessing the offending material. MPAA boss Bob Pisano seems to think this is the greatest thing since the Patriot Act:
“These rogue sites exist for one purpose only: to make a profit using the Internet to distribute the stolen and counterfeited goods and ideas of others. The economic impact of these activities — millions of lost jobs and dollars — is profound. That’s why dozens of labor organizations and businesses groups have come together to support the bill approved today by the Judiciary Committee.
As part of a wide ranging coalition of workers and businesses whose jobs and financial health have been placed at risk by content theft, we commend Senators Patrick Leahy and Orrin Hatch for their leadership on this bill. We look forward to working with them and the other cosponsors of the legislation, along with their colleagues in the House to help the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act become law.
The film and television industry alone is responsible for more than 2.4 million hard working, middle-class jobs in all 50 states. For these workers and their families, digital theft means declining incomes, lost jobs and reduced health and retirement benefits. Unfortunately, this means nothing to the operators of rogue websites who seek to benefit illegally from the hard work of others.
The operators of these sites use a variety of means to facilitate their goals – advertising, rentals, sales and charges for premium services. They are commonly assisted —sometimes unwittingly — by American companies whose ads are placed on the sites by brokers. They are also often aided by enterprises that provide the financial services for their schemes.
So “millions of dollars” really aren’t lost; the money is simply going to “advertising, rentals, sales, and charges for premium services” by non-MPAA members. That’s the crux of the issue. The MPAA wants to eliminate competition for the online distribution of content. Which, by the way, is completely understandable. As Pisano noted, when the MPAA can’t collect its tariffs, it can’t fulfill the requirements of its union contracts that mandate residual payments, contributions to health benefits, etc. If the MPAA didn’t do everything it could to demand state intervention, it would face holy hell from the government-backed unions that the studios are legally required to deal with.
The obvious question is, Why should individuals who are not parties to these contracts be forced to subsidize their terms? The MPAA’s argument doesn’t seem rooted in the notion that “IP is property” so much as “IP guarantees us a certain income level.” It all goes back to the false notion of government-created “rights” in value as opposed to scarce resources.
And despite all the moralistic rhetoric from Mr. Pisano, what’s truly appalling is the head of a trade association that claims to stand for artistic expression is demanding Congress hand unelected bureaucrats a blank check to restrain any and all speech deemed offensive to the state. There is zero chance such power will be limited in practice. The Federal Trade Commission already claims the right to censor any website that contains information deemed harmful to consumers. You don’t think the FTC will be standing before the Judiciary Committee, fists shaking, demanding the same exact type of legal power to seize domains that the MPAA asked for here?