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.
Australia will amend copyright laws to allow courts to order the blocking of overseas websites used for illegal downloads and streaming. The government has given internet service providers (ISPs) and copyright holders a four-month deadline to develop a new industry code which should canvass a “fair” sharing of the cost of notifying and educating customers about infringement.
Garcia v. Google is a copyright case arising from the "Innocence of Muslims" video that was associated with violent protests around the world. The appellant, Cindy Lee Garcia, argues that she holds a copyright in her five-second performance in the video, and that the video uses that performance without permission. EFF and many other public interest groups have filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, noting (among other concerns) that it is a matter of firmly established law that actors generally do not have a copyright in their performances.
Under European law, the copyright on Mondriaan’s work has now expired but the American-based Mondrian Trust says some works are still copyrighted and royalties need to be paid. But the US uses a different ruling. It says everything produced prior to 1923 is copyright-free but that later work is subject to a 95-year rule dating from the time the work was first published in Europe.
Case C-500/14 Ford Motor Company is a reference made by the Tribunale ordinario di Torino, Italy, for a preliminary ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on a matter that has been raised before the Italian courts on a number of occasions in recent years -- the unauthorised manufacture of "spare part" wheel trims bearing the trade marks of the original manufacturer in order to enable the purchaser to make sure that his purchase matches the appearance of the rest of his car. The subtle twist here is not however whether there is an infringement of any trade mark rights but whether there is a defence based on European design law.
Often DRM isn't just an infringement of your speech rights under copyright law, but more fundamentally an infringement of your rights as a consumer (you might be prevented not only from lending a book, but even from reading it). That's why a new wave of consumer protection laws around the world are also beginning to address the problems of DRM, by holding purveyors of digital products to the same standards as their physical counterparts. For example, since 2011, Europe has had a Consumer Rights Directive [PDF] that requires vendors of digital products to disclose up-front any DRM restrictions or interoperability issues, in clear and comprehensible language.