When state officials seek to censor online speech, they're going to use the quickest and easiest method available. For many, copyright takedown notices do the trick. After years of lobbying and increasing pressure from content industries on policymakers and tech companies, sending copyright notices to take media offline is easier than ever.
The copyright law that state actors most often invoke is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA was the first major digital copyright law passed in the United States, creating strict procedural rules for how and when a copyright holder can claim that uploaded content infringes on their copyright. US-based tech companies that receive these infringement notices must comply with these rules to receive their safe harbor—the protection they have from being liable for hosting unlawful user content.
The DMCA has become a global tool for censorship, precisely because it was designed to facilitate the removal of online media. The law carries provisions on intermediary liability, among many other strict copyright enforcement rules, which induce websites, Internet service providers, and other such "intermediaries" to remove content that is alleged to be a copyright infringement.
Following a European trend, the Portuguese Intellectual Property Court has ordered local ISPs to block access to The Pirate Bay. The legal action, brought by copyright holders, resulted in an injunction which orders the ISPs to block access to the popular torrent site and dozens of its proxies.
Courts all around the world have ordered Internet providers to block subscriber access to the torrent site and the list continues to expand. Last month French ISPs started blocking The Pirate Bay and last week the Intellectual Property Court in Portugal ordered a similar measure against local Internet providers.
Last month, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) issued a carefully-worded statement urging ICANN – the overseer of much of the Internet’s fundamental naming and numbering infrastructure – to take more vigorous action against the “use of domain names for illegal and abusive activities, including those related to IP infringement” (i.e., motion picture piracy). [See "MPAA Pushes for ICANN Policy Changes to Target 'Pirate' Domains"].
And just a few days ago, the recording industry joined in; a letter from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to ICANN, while expressing the industry’s “disappointment with . . . ICANN’s treatment of copyright abuse complaints filed to date,” similarly urged ICANN to move more vigorously to ensure that domain name registries and registrars “investigate copyright abuse complaints and respond appropriately.”
The Guardian report that the Swedish police have raided and seized computer and server equipment in Stockholm, taking the notorious piracy site the Pirate Bay offline. The site, which has survived the arrest and jailing of its founders, several attempts to remove it from the internet and blockade by internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK and internationally, has been unavailable for more than 24 hours.
EFF's article says that telling users how to strip the DRM from their legally purchased ebooks is not contributory copyright infringement, according to a ruling last month by a federal judge in New York. Judge Denise Cote dismissed two publishers' claims of contributory infringement and inducement in Abbey House Media v. Apple Inc., one of the many cases to come out of the antitrust litigation against Apple and a handful of major publishers.
Popcorn Time, an illegal streaming app based in America, will be blocked in the UK after a legal challenge from six Hollywood film studios.
The Motion Picture Association challenged Popcorn Time under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act. It means that the website now has a blocking order and cannot continue in the UK. The piracy app was launched more than a year ago and uses BitTorrent technology to download illegal content.