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Copyright Amendment Could Bring Web Filter System to Taiwan

The Taiwan Intellectual Property Office (IPO) [zh] recently proposed [zh] to amend the Copyright Act and provide legal justification of IP and DNS blocking at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level through a black list system. The government claims that the amendment would stop the illegal sharing of movies and music protected by copyright law.

Although IPO has stressed that the Internet service providers will only block overseas online platforms which are “specifically designed for copyright infringement activities” or websites which have “obviously violated copyrights,” such as Megaupload, the authorities will target online platforms that enhance peer-to-peer transmission including Bit Torrent, Foxy, and FTP sharing.

CK Hung believes that  the "black list" for blocking is dictators' favorite tool for censorship. Image from Roger Pielke Jr.'s Blog.

Image from Roger Pielke Jr.'s Blog.

The Taiwanese government proposal is similar to the United States bill, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was suspended last year following criticism from companies and civil society groups asserting that the legislation would threaten online freedom of expression and information flow. If the Taiwanese copyright amendment is implemented, the Island will have a mechanism that blocks and filters away “illegal websites” that host material that infringes copyright laws. This could be detrimental to sites like YouTube, where users regularly upload videos that may violate copyright laws. Although the company has a system for removing these videos, a law like this could lead to the site being blocked altogether.

Many Taiwanese find the proposal backward and contrary to the principle of an open society. Blogger I-Chen Tsai explained [zh] in Q&A format how the amendment has violated citizen's rights:

問:你是不是想看盜版?
答:不,我從不看盜版院線片,每個月平均進電影院兩次。我想捍衛的是一種價值。
如果今天政府找個理由,不經由法律程序,就能立即封掉任何境外網站。那麼,安個「言論影響國家安全」,就能立刻封掉「想想論壇」(hosted byAcquia);安個「影響我國傳統市場秩序」,就能封掉「好魚網」(hosted byAmazon);安個「錯誤引導年輕人就業觀念」,就能封掉「Mr. Jamie」(hosted by Media Temple)。
不管你做平台或電子商務,隨時暴露在歸零的危險裡,脖子上永遠架著經濟部的這把刀。你能接受嗎?
安個「侵權影片過多無法管理」,就能封掉 facebook (hosted by facebook);安個「常被使用於傳送非法軟體」,就能封掉 Dropbox (hosted by Dropbox)。你能接受嗎?
這不是「盜不盜版」的問題,這是「侵害人民權益」的問題。

Q: Do you want to see pirated movies?
A: No, I never watch pirated movies and I go to the cinema at least twice a month to see movies. I want to defend a principle.

If today the government finds a reason to get around legal procedures for blocking foreign websites, some day, it could block Thinking Taiwan [a blog hosting platform] (hosted by Acquia) because it has threatened national security, or block fish.123 [an online shopping platform for fish lovers] (hosted by Amazon) because it has affected our conventional market order; or block Mr. Jamie [a platform for start-ups] (hosted by Media Temple) because it has misled our young people's attitude in their career development.

No matter if you are the operator of a platform or commercial business, you will be exposed to the threat of being blocked. The knife of the IPO is against your throat. Can you accept that?

Can you accept the blocking of Facebook (hosted by Facebook) because there are too many infringed movies or the blocking of Dropbox (hosted by dropbox) because it is frequently used for the transmission of illegal software? This is not a copyright infringement issue, it is an issue of the violation of people's rights.

Ching Chiao, the CEO of DotAsia, an operator of a top-level domain registry, believes [zh] that the amendment is a setback for democracy and offered an alternative solution:

但是, 封網站就是不對, 就是開民主倒車, 勞民傷財的豬頭政策. 有執行封網站政策的國家聯上的是Intranet, 而不是Internet. 封網站是現代國家邁入鎖國的第一步.

智財局若想以行政命令的方式, 用”管好ISP業者就能防堵侵權內容散佈”的思維, 無非是自亂陣腳, 落入了開民主倒車的困境中. […] 要求ISP以黑名單的方式封堵網站, 短期間可能有效, 長期下來必定會造成用戶體驗不佳, 或是用戶繞過ISP既定的路由模式, 自行訪問被封鎖的站點, 情況就如同大陸的網友進行所謂的”翻牆”來訪問Youtube, Facebook等政治敏感的網站.

智財局其實可以積極地對付侵權網站, 尤其是侵犯到我國著作權人經濟利益的網站. 網站的宿主可能是在台灣境內, 可能是境外. 網站使用的網域名稱可能是.tw, 可能是其他如 .com / .net的國際域名, 這些管理單位都有通報機制, 智財局建立起良好的通報和聯繫機制, 讓國內外業者來配合執法, 每年定期出國開會吸取新知新做法, 遠比替自己要到一個封網站落後國家的臭名來的強.

Blocking websites is wrong, it is a setback for democracy, and a stupid policy that wastes people's money. Countries which have implemented ISP-level blocking are turning the Internet into an Intranet, the first step for turning a modern country into a self-enclosed country.

If the intellectual property bureau wants to implement the policy with an administrative order under the rationale of “blocking copyright infringement by pressuring the ISPs,” it will fall into a trap. […] To request ISPs to block websites according to a blacklist may have some effects in the short run. In the long run, the users will be dissatisfied with their online experience and use circumvention technology to get around ISPs to visit the blocked sites, like what has happened in mainland China, they “jump the Great Firewall” to visit politically sensitive websites such as YouTube and Facebook.

There are other measures that could be utilized by the bureau to fight copyright infringement, in particular if the infringement has harmed Taiwanese copyright holders. Every website has to register under a top level domain, the domains can be .tw (local) or .com / .net (international); all of the top level domain registry has a notice system to communicate with government authorities for law enforcement. The IPO should spend more time communicating with the international communities rather than pushing through a notorious policy for ISP-level blocking.

CK Hung, a writer from collective science blog PanSci.tw, pointed out [zh] that most of the copyright-related legislation in Taiwan is serving US-based copyright holders’ interests and that the side product of the blacklist system is the favorite tool of a dictator for censorship:

臺灣的智財法律/檢警體系/教育系統所發生的智財保護政策或重大案件, 從來就是由美國的利益團體在主導的, 從來就不是在服務國內的著作權人。 還記得 Now.in 抄臺事件 嗎? 主導者是 國際著作權權利組織 IFPI。 傷害無辜的獨立創作者不說, 就連正在談權利金的 國內著作權權利組織 MUST 的利益都受到傷害。 請告訴我這個行動保護了國內哪一位創作者的權利?

Most of the policies or incidents related with IP protection in Taiwan have been dominated by US-related interest groups. You still remember the police shutting down music platform Now.in (an online radio and podcast platform) last year? IFPI is behind the incident. The collateral damage has harmed many independent writers and the Music Copyright Society of Chinese Taipei (MUST) [as Now.in has secured initial consensus with MUST for uploading their music online]. Please tell me who in Taiwan can benefit from this kind of incident?

「以 IP 位址或 DNS」 的方式封鎖侵權網站, 這個封鎖黑名單不能公開, 因為一公開就更加替這些網站廣告。 這個清單會一直改變, 因為被封鎖的網站會搬來搬去。 具有這種特性的黑箱作業封鎖清單, 正是獨裁政府最喜歡的言論管制工具。

The blacklist for blocking websites at the IP and DNS level cannot be disclosed or else the list would make them more popular. The list will keep updating as the blocked sites will keep changing their DNS. Authoritarian states love these kinds of blacklists which operate in a black box to help them censor the Internet.

Briian argued [zh] that the policy goes against the emerging business model that is based on online sharing:

早就有研究指出盜版的存在對於正版的銷售有相當大的幫助,連台灣一堆唱片公司 […] 都搶著把自家歌手的 MV 搬上 YouTube 讓大家免費欣賞、免費收聽(以前都是網友私自分享的「侵權」行為啊)。而去年紅透全球的 PSY 江南大叔的騎馬舞也都是免費放上網路上讓大家看、讓大家聽,儘管在唱片的銷售方面可能無法 100% 賺到錢,實際上演唱會、商演與其他周邊的銷售,卻讓該公司賺到了以前的模式賺不到的更多的錢。更別說藉由分享的方式可能讓商品擴及到以前接觸不到的族群或國家、地區。

There is research pointing out that the distribution of pirated copy can enhance the sale of original copy. Even music companies in Taiwan […] now upload their singers MV to YouTube for free consumption (in the past, such kind of sharing was defined as infringement). Last year, PSY's Gangnam Style horse dance became a global hit because of free distribution and consumption online. Although the music company can't take 100 percent of the profit from record sales, it makes a huge amount of profit from PSY's global performance contract and other side products. The free distribution has help the company to extend the market to those countries and regions that cannot be reached before.

Concerned citizens have created an event page [zh] on Facebook to gather information and mobilize against the amendment.

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