Source: http://www.corbettreport.com

Beyond SOPA: The Past, Present and Future of Internet Censorship

By James Corbett
grtv.ca
29 January, 2012

When legislators in the US abandoned their support of SOPA and PIPA in the wake of mass popular protest earlier this month, many of those who had been mobilized by the legislation–which would have granted the US government almost total power to block access to foreign websites accused of so much as linking to copyrighted material–did not have long to enjoy their “victory.” The very next day the New Zealand police swooped in to the million-dollar estate of MegaUpload.com founder Kim Dotcom, arresting him and three others at the US government’s request for alleged racketeering, copyright infringement and money laundering. The Department of Justice is now seeking the MegaUpload CEO’s extradition to the US.

Some amongst those who had been campaigning against SOPA and PIPA did not know that the US government already had the authority to shut down entire websites and in fact has exercised that authority on numerous occasions. What many are now learning is that, far from some potential future threat, internet censorship already exists in a variety of legislation that is already on the books in the United States and in nations around the world.

Although most commonly associated with China, which has implemented strict internet filters that prevent its citizens from finding politically sensitive material, various internet censorship programs have already been implemented by countries around the globe.

In 2010, Japan passed amendments to its copyright law making it illegal to download copyrighted material. The move has yet to curtail file-sharing in the country, so the Japanese government recently announced that they are going to begin putting fake copies of popular tv dramas on file-sharing websites that, when opened, remind users that it is illegal to download such material.

In July of 2010, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement seized the domains of 8 websites that it accused of hosting illegal copies of copyrighted material as part of an investigation dubbed Operation In Our Sites. The seizures came before any trial took place, and six of the websites did not actually host any of the copyrighted material in question, only linking to it. That November, ICE acted once again, this time seizing 82 domains. In December of 2011, over one year later, the agency returned one of the domains, Dajaz1.com, to its owner, after admitting that it had not in fact breached any laws.

In May of last year, the US Justice Department began seeking the extradition of one of the website’s operators, Richard O’Dwyer, from the UK. O’Dwyer is a British citizen who established TVShack.net in December of 2007. The DOJ is hoping to bring O’Dwyer to the US under the Extradition Act of 2003 to face charges of copyright infringement in the Southern District of New York.

Late last year, a number of nations signed a new global copyright agreement known as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement or ACTA. Signatories include the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, South Korea, and, as of this past week, 22 member states of the European Union.

Purported to be a treaty against counterfeit goods, generic drugs and copyright, it threatens to fundamentally alter the internet as it has so far existed.

When the Polish government announced its intention to sign earlier this month, protests sprang up around the country.

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