According to a post on the “Law & Disorder” blog at Ars Technica, a group of 90 law professors of varying political backgrounds has signed a letter to Congress objecting to the proposed PROTECT-IP Act (a copyright enforcement bill, backed by the content producers, that, among other things, would provide for a legally-enforceable Internet “black list”), on the grounds that it would produce speech restrictions that violate the First Amendment. They specifically object to a provision that would require ISPs and other Internet services to stop recognizing a site solely on the basis of a complaint.
“The Act would allow courts to order any Internet service to stop recognizing [a] site even on a temporary restraining order… issued the same day the complaint is filed,” they write.
As the post (written by Timothy B. Lee, who has also blogged occasionally at Freedom to Tinker) goes on to point out, the Supreme Court has held (in Freedman v. Maryland) that restraints on speech cannot be imposed without an actual court proceeding that allows all parties to have a voice. PROTECT-IP would allow a judge to issue a restraining order as soon as a complaint is filed — that is, after hearing only from the complainant. There is also the possibility of such an order blocking an entire domain, and thereby removing large amounts of unconnected, entirely innocent material from the public Internet. The entire letter can be read online here, along with some additional commentary by Prof. David Post of the Temple University Beasley School of Law, one of the letter’s authors; you can download a PDF copy if you have a Scribd.com or Facebook account.
I’ve written before about how copyright law has developed into something rather far from its original purposes, and how the producers’ claims of economic harm are misleading. The copyright owners seem to feel that they should be able to collect economic rents in perpetuity; perhaps it is time for that gravy train to hit the buffers.