There has been a great deal of concern recently over proposed legislation and treaties — such as SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, and TPP — that would hand the copyright industries what are widely seen as unwarranted powers to go after allegedly infringing websites.
According to TechDirt’s Glyn Moody, however, informal deals struck between governments and corporations could be just as harmful — and the British government is currently engaged in just such an effort.
Moody, the author of Rebel Code: Linux and the Open Source Revolution, writes that “with the implicit threat that tough legislation will be brought in if voluntary agreements aren’t drawn up promptly enough, governments are using this technique to avoid even the minimal scrutiny that consultations on proposed new laws would permit.”
He points to a post by James Firth which reveals that “the UK government and in particular Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, is pressurising search engines to police search results in a way that goes well beyond notice and take-down.”
What the British government is after amounts to the artificial promotion of “approved” online music and film services, combined with a blacklist of websites accused of infringement which would be completely excluded from search results.
As Moody notes, a system of this sort could easily lead to the censorship of a great deal of legitimate content with no oversight or appeal. So far, the search engine companies appear reluctant to go along with doctoring search results to favor a single industry’s economic interests, especially since it could lead them to incur charges of colluding in anti-competitive behavior. However, they may be willing to go along with an advertising blacklist, which would be less extreme but no less high-handed.
“Legislation, with full consultation from all parties, is a far better way of proceeding,” Moody concludes. “After all, it’s why we have a legislative process with checks and balances in the first place — to craft a solution that is both workable and fair. The new fashion for backroom agreements among a small group of unelected insiders is nothing less than an attack on that process, and hence on democracy itself.”
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