OpenMedia

Stop the Secrecy

Who is the real Goliath here?

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 15:51 -- Eva Prkachin

Photo by Fried Dough via Flickr

Last week’s massive email leak at Sony revealed a number of unsavoury things about the company from the racist comments of Sony co-chairman Amy Pascal, to the company’s scramble to avoid provoking an international incident in the upcoming Judd Apatow comedy The Interview, to the fact that Oscar-winner and A-lister Jennifer Lawrence was paid less than her male counterparts in American Hustle.

It also provided some pretty hilarious celebrity inside gossip, like that George Clooney is super sad that no one liked The Monuments Men, Sony thinks Adam Sandler is terrible, too, and that Channing Tatum writes emails to studio executives like an 18-year old frat boy (to be fair, if I was Channing Tatum I’d totally write emails like that).

Of particular concern to us, however, is a series of legalese-laden email exchanges laying out a detailed plan to go after a company they refer to mysteriously as ‘Goliath’. From the leaked emails, we can ascertain that ‘Goliath’ is a massive Internet search engine one might use to find links to copyrighted material online.

I’ll give you three guesses who it is -- and the first two don’t count.

Did you figure it out? Yes, ‘Goliath’ is very, very likely Google. So what’s Sony’s beef with the Internet maven?

Well, Sony, along with a number of other major Hollywood studios and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) have been desperately trying to force Google to block search results that enable Internet users to illegally download their protected material. They want to create a situation where Internet service providers can block access to whole websites in an effort to prevent piracy. Here’s how The Verge lays it out:

At the beginning of this year, the MPAA and six studios — Universal, Sony, Fox, Paramount, Warner Bros., and Disney — joined together to begin a new campaign against piracy on the web. A January 25th email lays out a series of legally and technically ambitious new tools, including new measures that would block infringing sites from reaching customers of many major ISPs. Documents reviewed by The Verge detail the beginning of a new plan to attack piracy after the federal SOPA efforts failed by working with state attorneys general and major ISPs like Comcast to expand court power over the way data is served. If successful, the result would fundamentally alter the open nature of the internet.

Let me distill that down for you a bit. In 2012, the MPAA and other industry power-hitters lobbied the U.S. congress extensively to pass a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. The bill would have forced ISPs to act as Internet police, making them block access to entire websites on the mere suspicion of a copyright violation.

More recently, industry lobbyists have been relentlessly trying to force similar measures into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a huge multi-national trade deal that is being negotiated in almost total secrecy. All of these efforts have been met with a massive backlash from Internet users everywhere, and these leaked emails reveal that Sony and their pals know that - that’s why they’re keeping you in the dark about their plans.

Now, I know what you’re going to say: “Hold on there, Prkachin, Internet piracy is illegal, and I hate that hard-working artists are having their life’s work stolen at the click of a mouse”. Me too - I’m a musician myself insert shameless plug here. Here at OpenMedia, we believe that artists deserve to be fairly compensated for their work. Our crowdsourced report for free expression online in the 21st century revealed that having a fair and flexible copyright system means that artists can make a living off their work, while users have the freedom to share collaborate, and create online.

But there’s another problem with these efforts to curb piracy - there’s virtually no telling what the legal standard of proof for these website blocks will be. As a result, we’ve seen time and again that allowing (or forcing) ISPs to use piracy as a pretext for taking down websites amounts to Internet censorship. Free speech ranging from online reviews to political criticism to totally random sites like the Hugo Awards have been taken offline on spurious copyright violation claims.

The Sony emails feature a draft legal plan drawn up by top MPAA executives in consultation with some very high-flying lawyers. So there’s no doubt that the studios are preparing to drop some major cash pursuing this censorship plan.

But don’t let that get you down, your OpenMedia team is working hard to fight Internet censorship and advocate for strong legal protections for Internet users. We just sent our very own Meghan Sali to Washington, DC to square off with TPP lobbyists and present them the Our Digital Future report.

And there’s plenty that you can do too. Go to https://StopTheSecrecy.net to join over 3 million Internet users in telling TPP negotiators to back off their Internet censorship plan.

Stop the Secrecy