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Censorship Your Rights Online

Testing ISP Censorship 431

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the it's-just-far-too-easy dept.
ryants writes "As part of a research project, Christian Ahlert ran an interesting experiment. He posted John Stuart Mill's On Liberty, which is clearly in the public domain, on different ISPs. He then sent the ISPs phony copyright violation notices. The results are troubling, with ISPs "acting as judge, jury and private investigator at the same time.""
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Testing ISP Censorship

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  • Censored (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:00PM (#9390689)
    FP censored by my ISP
  • Sample Size? Two. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jorj X. McKie (323674) * <mckie@am[ ]st.com ['ilo' in gap]> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:00PM (#9390690) Journal
    While the fact that a UK ISP folded immediately, without further investigation, is somewhat troubling (mostly for customers of that provider), the size of the sample does not justify any sort of conclusion. I'd be really interested to know which ISPs have NTD policies, and which do not. The US ISP responded in precisely the manner that I would want my hosting service to employ. Exactly how widespread is the problem?

    Of course, if we want this kind of behavior on the part to ISPs to stop, then they have to have some kind of legal shield from copyright damages while they investigate claims of copyright infringement. Normally, I would say that a reasonable approach would serve everyone well, but the legal system seems anything but reasonable these days, particularly in regard to intellectual property. So it would seem (if there is not such a shield already available) that there ought to be some kind of law or ruling that explicitly specifies the duty and liability of ISPs in the event that a copyright violation is alleged. Meaning, of course, that I draw pretty much the same conclusion as Ahlert does. I would prefer that he had documented the problem a little more thoroughly, however.
    • by nberardi (199555) *
      I totally agree, with your first point, and these scare tactics are done because of over zealous lawyers, that will milk you for everything you have. It is much easier to take the information down and deal with one person than a team of lawyers.

      I also on a side note the writter of this story doesn't really under stand the meaning of censorship. Only a government can censor a person, a private company does not have this ability. Even though they allow their servers to be used with public access doesn't m
      • by bongoras (632709) * on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:25PM (#9390991) Homepage
        mod parent -1 hairsplitting...

        So if you had, say, your masters' thesis, on that UK ISP and I wanted to cause you some trouble, I could sent them a bogus C&D letter and they'd yank your thesis offline without contacting you, or attempting to verify the legitimacy of my C&D letter, and you'd think that's a good thing for them to do?

        Please THINK.

      • I also on a side note the writter of this story doesn't really under stand the meaning of censorship. Only a government can censor a person, a private company does not have this ability.

        Very true. A better analogy, though still flawed, would be a store removing alegedly stolen property from it's shelves. Censorship has nothing to do with copyright violation.
      • by Jim_Maryland (718224) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:28PM (#9391009)
        In a way, I have to disagree with what the ISP's did in removing/blocking the content. I realize that the ISP's own the network as you've pointed out, but what would stop someone from makng claims about numerous sites over copyrighted material and having those sites shut down. The author doesn't do a very good job explaining the exact setup of the site or the details of the actions by the ISP, so I can't say with certainty that they acted improperly. If the ISP's just pulled the connection based on a bogus claim, imagine the havoc someone could play on web sites.

        Picture the ISP for a local politicians website getting a notice that www.somepolitician.org was displaying copyrighted work. Picture that claim coming from www.running-against.org. Without some level of validation, claims could affect legitimate sites.

        One would hope that ISP's would require some level of proof indicating the copyright infringement followed by a contacting the website operator to inquire if they can show rights to the use the content. I don't know if this would put too much burden on the ISP though. Maybe not the ideal solution, but seems better than just pulling the connection.
      • Re:Sample Size? Two. (Score:4, Informative)

        by pbody (532589) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:59PM (#9391376)
        I also on a side note the writter of this story doesn't really under stand the meaning of censorship. Only a government can censor a person, a private company does not have this ability.
        Also as a side note you cannot censor published content, you can restrict it, but the litteral word of censor is not possible to do on published content. So the government can never censor published content.

        Ok now, from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition:
        censor: A person authorized to examine books, films, or other material and to remove or suppress what is considered morally, politically, or otherwise objectionable.
        censoring: (1) counterintelligence achieved by banning or deleting any information of value to the enemy [syn: censorship, security review]
        (2) deleting parts of publications or correspondence or theatrical performances [syn: censorship]

        Nothing about only the gov't having the power to censor. Anyone or group can censor. See the Wikipedia for more info [wikipedia.org].
      • by rossifer (581396) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @05:21PM (#9392341) Journal
        also on a side note the writter of this story doesn't really under stand the meaning of censorship. Only a government can censor a person, a private company does not have this ability.

        I've heard this from other people as well, and the issue is that you've got the first amendment confused with the definition of censorship.

        From Merriam-Webster:

        censorship (noun) 1 a : the institution, system, or practice of censoring b : the actions or practices of censors; especially : censorial control exercised repressively

        If I run a chatroom for AOL and I keep the chatroom kiddy-safe by kicking objectionable posters and deleting their remarks, I am censoring the chatroom. The First Amendment to the US Constitution, on the other hand, basically states that the government is usually not permitted to censor individuals (free speech) or publishing interests (free press).

        If you wanted to be correct, you could say that the first amendment only prevents the US government from censoring content, and that corporations and people are not limited by "free speech" rights to censor themselves and others who speak or publish through them.

        At that point, we get into the interesting topics that this issue raises: is it okay if the government asks nongovernment entities to censor for it? Related question: is it good if nongovernment entities universally censor certain opinions they consider unpalatable (say, antiglobalization)?

        But your definition of censorship is in error.

        Regards,
        Ross
        • by Artifakt (700173) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @06:17PM (#9392808)
          I am not a lawyer. This is a lay person's opinion.

          In the US, if the government actually asks a non-government entity to act on its behalf in a law enforcement related matter such as gathering evidence, the accused has the same rights as if an official representitive of the government did it. Ergo, if at government request, your ISP acts in a manner not allowed LE personnel, both they, and the government person requesting it are subject to all the usual lawsuits sometimes brought against the police, i.e. for tampering with communications, (often invoked in the 60's and ocvcasionally since for wiretapping or opening mail without a court order), wrongful siezure of property, or even vandalism (for wrongful distruction of property, i.e. they purged your files).
          Police Depts. pay substantially for insurance against just such suits. Since most ISPs don't, the people who are carrying out the orders are probably being very foolish. This applies to non-government people who are actually asked to censor by the government. If the government can't legally do it itself, and carries insurance just to mitigate the damages of making a mistake, why do you want to do it for them when you don't even have the same level of protection?
      • If the government can hold an ISP responsible for actions carried out by other people using infrastructure provided by the ISP, surely the goverment can and should be held responsible for actions carried out by other people using infrastructure provided by the government

        Notice and takedown procedures are infrastructure provided by the government for the express purpose of rapidly blocking public access to information ( look here [digital-law-online.info]) without making any provision for rapidly restoring access to information erron

    • by WarriorPoet42 (762455) <nick&gibson-tech,com> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:11PM (#9390816) Journal
      As the aleged copyright infringement was textual, the US ISP investigated. But put a piece of music or some open source software on a website and try your experiment again, this time citing the DMCA. I'll wager 10 out of 10 fold before you have time to check your email again.
      • Re:Sample Size? Two. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by chimpo13 (471212) <slashdot@nokilli.com> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:28PM (#9391011) Homepage Journal
        It's not just music. Ulink.net shut down part of my site when I was still hosted by them after receiving a complaint from the Beverly Hills police department for "displaying children with pornography". It was a background picture of the Trix rabbit saying "tits are for kids". Didn't bother telling me about either. It was shut down for days before I noticed and sent them an email asking what was going on.

        7th Heaven sarcasm [nokilli.com]

        Ulink quote:
        We have been contacted by authorities regarding your displaying of a child star on a page with pornography. For your own protection we had to take down that page or you could be in serious trouble. In the future, please do not display pornography and children together. It is against the law and Ulink policies.
      • DMCA covers text. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Frank T. Lofaro Jr. (142215) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @04:28PM (#9391751) Homepage
        DMCA covers text.

        For example, if you decrypt the following and/or post the plaintext I could in theory use the DMCA against you. No, I won't actually do it. I do wonder how soon someone will in fact post a decryption of it here. And how long before someone posts a one-line Perl script decrypter and makes it open-source. :)

        Zpv Tmbtiepu hfflt offe up hp pvutjef npsf. :)

    • by hackstraw (262471) * on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:16PM (#9390870)
      Exactly how widespread is the problem?

      I doubt its very widespread, nor is it a "problem". ISPs are a dime a dozen. You can find them to pump your spam, serve your porn, email, whatever. If you don't agree to the terms of use for any reason, simply go to another one.

      The slashdot crowd is so wierd about copyright infringements. If I owned an ISP and someone reported that there was a problem with copyrighted material on my equipment, I would take the stuff down too. How much time should I spend seeing if the stuff is a problem. I guestimate 0. If the material is that important and really is OK to redistribute, then a counter from the original person suplying the material will prove to me that its OK to put back up, and I would do it. However, aside from this sample size of 2 "research" experiment, I would guestimate that close to 0.0% of all complaints to and ISP about copyright violations are not copyright violations. I would imagine that most every ISP has a zero tolerance policy (aside from the sleezy ones that will host anything for a price) regarding copyrights, and don't care to spend any time figuring it out.
      • Re:Sample Size? Two. (Score:5, Informative)

        by geoffspear (692508) * on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:24PM (#9390975) Homepage
        Dear slashdot admins,

        I own the copyright to all messages posted by your user "hackstraw". Please delete his account and everything in it immediately.

      • by DaveJay (133437) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:50PM (#9391261)
        When my wife and I started our own message board, a competing board tried to get us to stop perfectly legal activities through extortion; i.e., they threatened to contact our ISP and accuse us of spamming if we didn't do what they wanted.

        We didn't do it. They contacted our ISP. I had contacted our ISP in advance with a copy of the extortion email, and it was dealt with appropriately. We never went offline.

        Now, that's with a good ISP, that I was in open communication with, and that I warned in advance about the contact, and everything was fine. However, if they had contacted our ISP without first tipping me off to their plans, and had claimed that we were hosting child pornography or infringing someone's copyright, things might have been different.

        Chances are it would have taken a couple of days to get it all worked out and back online, but what if the site were politically oriented, and the persons who had it taken down had access to the media?

        Imagine this scenario:

        1. I post legal, factual information that I feel people should know about before voting for big, powerful mogul;

        2. Powerful mogul tells my ISP that I'm doing something illegal (that I'm not doing), and the ISP takes my site down without review;

        3. Powerful mogul "leaks" to the news that this site was taken down because of illegal material (let's say child pornography);

        4. Most news agencies try to contact me, but a few don't, and run the story as-is;

        5. My site is still down, so in the crucial 48 hours after the news story runs, I have no web site to post any kind of rebuttal;

        6. Three days later, my site goes back up and my ISP says "it was all nonsense", but it's old news by now. My credibility is shot, and my message is rendered ineffective.

        The point of all this, I think, isn't that illegitimate takedown requests can be corrected in a few days, but that illegitimate takedown requests can silence your voice for a crucial period of time that a shrewd, powerful manipulator can leverage for maximum advantage (as in my theoretical example above).
        • This would be cause for a lawsuit for libel, slander, defamation of character, or something along those lines. Regardless of ISP policies, it is illegal to conduct a smear campaign against someone by spreading untrue information to the public.
      • by ChaosDiscord (4913) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @05:57PM (#9392636) Homepage Journal
        I doubt its very widespread...

        If silencing of perfectly legal speech was widespread it wouldn't be a problem; everyone would know, people would get angry, things would be changed or an illegal communications channel would pop up to replace it.

        The problem is that it's relatively infrequent. It doesn't seem like a serious problem, so the small number of people getting screwed tend to be ignored.

        ISPs are a dime a dozen. You can find them to pump your spam, serve your porn, email, whatever. If you don't agree to the terms of use for any reason, simply go to another one.

        Great, if I want free speech online I get to share an ISP with porn sites and spammers. Which, of course, will get me blacklisted in other ways.

        The reality is that DMCA is quite clear; when given a properly formed DMCA takedown request the content must be removed. Failure to do so exposes the ISP to liability. End result: very, very few ISPs will stand up for you. Worse, almost no ISP will tell you up front about their policy. When I arranged my current provider they seemed positively confused when I asked about their DMCA takedown policy. Given that they run tens of thousands of web sites I know they see DMCA takedowns. Because of the relatively infrequency of DMCA takedowns and the even smaller number of takedowns that are wrong there aren't enough data points to form a review web site to find out which ISPs are badly behaved.

        I would imagine that most every ISP has a zero tolerance policy (aside from the sleezy ones that will host anything for a price) regarding copyrights, and don't care to spend any time figuring it out.

        My point exactly. I get sleazy, blacklisted sites, or I get a near-zero tolerance policy. Even a day of having a page taken down can be a serious problem. The DMCA mandated 10 days is downright crippling. Just ask Fat Wallet [fatwallet.com], which was issued DMCA takedown requests that effectively destroyed their ability to compare post-Thanksgiving specials. By the time the content was back up, the day was past. Cost to Wal-mart? One nasty-gram from a lawyer.

    • While the result is superficially satisfying from the point of view of an American ("America is a land where the right to free speech is well-understood and -respected by the public at large, and dem furriners don't know nuthin' 'bout it"), you're dead-on accurate about the sample size issue. Perhaps there should be an ongoing system of this kind of check, done at random across the world's ISPs, and the results publicly displayed at a centralized web site where people could check on how on-the-ball any par
  • Checks and Balances (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bonghorn (787130) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:01PM (#9390695)
    There really needs to be some sort of check to counter ISPs being able to do this. Perhaps some sort of law that defines a procedure for preventing things like this, maybe?
    • AUP (Score:4, Informative)

      by millahtime (710421) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:08PM (#9390772) Homepage Journal
      I believe their policy is on these matters is their Acceptable Use Policy on this.

      If they are in violation of that let them know or you can take it to the Better Business Bearu (at least in the US). I worked for an ISP and went through this before.
    • by Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) <abacaxi@hotmaiBOYSENl.com minus berry> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:18PM (#9390901)
      "Perhaps some sort of law that defines a procedure for preventing things like this, maybe?"

      There is a clearly defined procedure in the DMCA for ISPs ... on receipt of the complaint, they MUST notify the site owner and MUST take down the material within a certain time.

      On their part, the site owner MUST file a reply to the takedown within a certain time. When the ISP gets the reply, which is a legal document swearing to the ownership of the material, they MUST restore the material or allow its reposting (the ISP's part is over).

      The complaining party (the claimant to the copyright) MUST at this point either file a formal copyright infringement suit in the federal court closest to the web site owner's place of business or shut up. Repeat complaints are NOT allowed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:02PM (#9390703)
    The actual results are presented in detailed form in a PDF file:

    How 'Liberty' Disappeared from the Internet [ox.ac.uk]

    Or see the Google text version [64.233.167.104].
    • read the actual results. Anyone reading /. will already have their opinion and a basic understanding. Save your time reading a redundant, almost circular article, by going straight to the actual results. Don't worry, the actual results will ALSO include the information in the article.
      • by JohnnyComeLately (725958) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:20PM (#9390931) Homepage Journal
        Good gracious. Maybe I'm in "DICK" mode today, but this completely disappoints me at every level. Sample size of two? I hope I've made a mistake, but a 39 page paper based upon an experiment with a sample size of TWO!!??

        It'd be better off being summarized and turned into a Op/Ed piece. The paper itself seems very sound in structure, setting up methods and procedures for experimenting, developing a hypothesis and all the remaining factors for a good research paper. However, to have spent so much time in preparation for a sample of 2 is like spending a whole year prepping for a 10 second race.

        Just my critical view of it, after several Associates, a Bachelors, Masters and starting on a second Masters degree.

    • by blorg (726186) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:26PM (#9390999)
      Lycos - on page 21, where he has shoddily neglected to blank it out. Ironic, as Lycos is actually owned by Terra [terralycos.com], a Spanish (EU) ISP.

      I agree that this study is a very good idea; I just wish he could have done it a bit better and more thoroughly. Two ISPs, one from the US, one from the EU, is simply not enough to draw any sort of conclusion.
  • work (Score:3, Funny)

    by millahtime (710421) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:04PM (#9390727) Homepage Journal
    My work even censors me from reading the results of the survey.
  • of the estate of John Stuart Mill, I will be expecting a check in my hand (made to cash) by the end of business today.

    This flagrant abuse of the "public domain" system has to stop. If people start reading and sharing intellectual property simply because it is no longer covered by any form of valid legal restrictions, how are people like myself supposed to continue to earn a living? Who's thinking about that?

    Remember, EOB today! (Tick, tick, tick)

  • ISPs tend to have a limited staff and I would imagine, get a lot of flack from RIAA/MPAA etc... Instead of using (sometimes limited) resources to ferret out real offenders, they just rubber stamp any request that comes in. Survival mechanism perhaps, prob. gets the RIAA off their backs.
    Remember, an ISP can do (almost) whatever it wants with it's own network, it's a private company, not the government. So technically it isn't censorship. If you don't like the way they handle speech, start your own ISP
    • "So technically it isn't censorship"

      Technically, it's not government censorship. Technically, it is censorship.

      Censor: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable.
      • Ok, so technically it is censorship, but not government endorsed censorship. Only government endorsed censorship violates the constitution. As long as there isn't any giagantic monopoly in the media world, company's censoring things that are in their domain is legal(I say in their domain because for example a car comapny should not be able to censor a report by the NY Times about how crushed clown skulls are hidden inside the passenger side seat)
    • As a previous poster mentioned, it IS censorship, but not by the government. Governmental censorship certainly is more insidious that private censorship, since it is more pervasive. You can't step out of the government's jurisdiction, but you can stop using the private company's services.

      The problem arises when a "private" entities becomes so large and powerful that that they have a monopoly or cartel and a lot of ties with the government. When the only place you can turn for a service is one of these g
  • I am waiting ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xplosiv (129880) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:07PM (#9390760)
    I am waiting for the day when people start sending(read: abusing) these kind of take down notices in order to shut down a site they don't like, or even worse, competition. Granted, he tested only 2 Internet Providers, but this could become a new form of DoS if providers just started shutting down sites without doing some research. The provider should follow up as the US provider did, give the site owner a chance to defend his/her work.
    • Re:I am waiting ... (Score:3, Informative)

      by millahtime (710421)
      ranted, he tested only 2 Internet Providers, but this could become a new form of DoS if providers just started shutting down sites without doing some research.

      In the US it is simple. If they take it down they have to let you know. If not then sue. Unless it is residential in the AUP and they say they don't need to contact you for taking something like that down. Then you can't argue cause they informed you of the AUP. But, I'm sure you could still sue. If it was for business then they have to or sue
    • Re:I am waiting ... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) <abacaxi@hotmaiBOYSENl.com minus berry> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:22PM (#9390953)
      "I am waiting for the day when people start sending(read: abusing) these kind of take down notices in order to shut down a site they don't like, or even worse, competition."

      When you send a take-down complaint, you MUST swear (as in a legal swearing subject to perjury charges) that you are indeed the holder of the copyright on the material you are complaining about. Make a nuiisance of yourself and you can have some interesting chats with the Feds and your victim's lawyers.

      • Re:I am waiting ... (Score:3, Informative)

        by arkanes (521690)
        This actually is not true, much to my sadness. The only "penalty of perjury" claim is that you represent a copyright owner. You must say that you have good faith cause to believe that the copyrights of whoever you represent are violated, but thats not a "penalty of perjury" clause. This is why spurious DMCA claims are so easy.
  • "The US ISP followed up on the dubious complaint, made on behalf of the chairman of the non-existent John Stuart Mill Heritage Foundation, with detailed questions. But the UK ISP took the site down almost immediately, effectively censoring legal content without investigation."
    • "The US ISP followed up on the dubious complaint, made on behalf of the chairman of the non-existent John Stuart Mill Heritage Foundation, with detailed questions. But the UK ISP took the site down almost immediately, effectively censoring legal content without investigation."

      The US ISP was probubally scared that if they did something wrong they would get sued sued sued
  • by TheBrownShow (454945) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:08PM (#9390777)
    Considering you're using the ISP's resources, is it really censorship? Nobody's stopping you from copying that text and handing it out to people using your own money and resources; but when you're technically using THEIR bandwidth, don't they have the right to say what you can and can't do with it?
    • by Mz6 (741941) * on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:11PM (#9390810) Journal
      Yeah but you are also paying for that bandwidth. OTOH, if I were getting it for free then they can tell me what I can and cannot put up because in that case I am using their bandwidth that they are paying for.
      • Yeah but you are also paying for that bandwidth. OTOH, if I were getting it for free then they can tell me what I can and cannot put up because in that case I am using their bandwidth that they are paying for.

        Just because you pay for bandwidth, it doesn't give you the right to do whatever you want with it. Nobody's stopping you from using your right to free speech on your own time - but on somebody else's time/property it's a different story.

        I have every right to stand on my lawn with my hair on fire sc
        • The bandwidth only "belongs" to the ISP because they have, themselves, purchased it, and in turn sold it to you. If it isn't "yours," it isn't "theirs" either.

          KFG
      • by blorg (726186) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:55PM (#9391329)
        ...which is yet another black hole in his methodology. (See the full report [ox.ac.uk] for details of the methodology.)

        Quote from the article:

        The UK ISP took Mill down almost immediately (in huge letters, as a heading, followed by:)

        The US ISP followed up on the dubious complaint, made on behalf of the chairman of the non-existent John Stuart Mill Heritage Foundation, with detailed questions. But the UK ISP took the site down almost immediately, effectively censoring legal content without investigation.

        In the full report, he details how the US ISP refused to take down the content *unless he explicitly perjured himself in writing*, acknowledging in writing the phrase "under penalty of perjury". Unsurprisingly he was unwilling to do this and terminated the project - so the US ISP left the content there, and did exactly the right thing - a fact he completely skips over in the summary article.

        The reason it did do this was that the DCMA provides a framework for such complaints. While ultimately his point in the article is that government regulation may be preferable to private corporate censorship, he doesn't want to explicitly draw the logical conclusion that in this case the DCMA is working exactly as intended, protecting the alleged infringer against specious claims. Rather he decides to reference "anecdotal evidence" that the DCMA has chilling effects.

        Now I believe the DCMA to be one of the most wrong-headed laws ever signed, and I agree with this guy's conclusions, but the report reads obviously that he has started with these conclusions and moulded his data to fit them. His methodology is completely out the window. And that's a problem, because anyone can come up with a "research report"; that proves whatever they want, including the bad guys [adti.net] - and from a methodology perspective this guy could get a job with them.
    • Is it really their bandwidth? If your plan includes webspace, you're effectively paying for the bandwidth and space you're using. So to relate to your metaphore, its like paying a company to print and distribute your content, then having them take the money but refuse to distribute the content because someone complained.

      As for having a right to do what they want with the bandwidth, they probably cover that in their AUP.
    • censor: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable

      Did they supress or delete something, anything at all? Yes, it is censorship.
    • I think where it crosses the line is that the ISP has a legal responsiblity/liability for the content. So are they acting on behalf of the government when they take down a site? Is it really "voluntary" action when an ISP can be legally liable if they don't act immediately? How much different is this than direct government action?
  • alarmist (Score:5, Insightful)

    by funny-jack (741994) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:10PM (#9390798) Homepage
    Let's see... So, he posted it to two, yes that's right--only two, ISPs. One of them took it down without looking into it, and the other actually researched it. So what's his answer to this "problem"? Government regulation, of course! Hmm... Does anyone else see a problem with both his experiment and his conclusion?
  • by GillBates0 (664202) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:10PM (#9390804) Homepage Journal
    They're clearly just trying to avoid trouble. This is what happens when policy descisions are made among the lower strata of an organization.

    Individual employees just want to save their skin and not have to take the responsibility of taking a wrong decision and being held responsible.

    They will continue to do this until the "other path" becomes the path of least resistance, and THAT will only happen when citizens (or consumers in today's parlance) start asserting their rights and bringing companies to boot for unfair suppression of rights.

  • by ryancerium (665165) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:14PM (#9390849)

    This whole article is effectively a Barbara Walters style rant and rave about how wrong something is but offers very little in the way of a solution or even a call to action for fair laws.

    Can you really blame an ISP for quickly acting to minimize its legal exposure? How much would it cost to get sued (even falsely) for allowing a copyright infringement to continue? Last time I checked, lawyers were damn expensive. If the (allegedly) infringing website operator wants to fight it, let him. It's his web site, not the ISP's. Really, the ISP should be the last course of action for someone to remove copyrighted content. If the owner of the site is unresponsive, then the owner should show a court order or some other similarly authorized documentation claiming copyright infringement.

    I'm sure there are a million holes in any idea posted here though, and they will be thoroughly discussed later. We're going to need rational laws eventually, it's just a question of whose side they're on.

    • If you'd actually read it, he's not blaming ISPs for doing that. He's blaming legislation (specifically the NTD) for creating an environment that induces ISPs to do this. It doesn't provide any guidelines about what contitutes "knowledge" that would make an ISP liable, doesn't set any conditions of accountability or openness, etc, etc. Of course ISPs respond this way. If you were a conspiracy buff you'd probably draw the conclusion that the legislation was this vague on purpose, to get exactly this same ef
  • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:15PM (#9390861)

    The real problem is that ISPs don't want to be bothered. They don't want to get sued and have to pay a bunch of money to lawyers because of the actions of a couple of customers. So, when they receive a copyright infringement claim, there is very little chance they will actually investigate it, and even less chance they will fight the demand that the material be taken down. Instead, they will almost always automatically take down the "offending" material, no questions asked.

  • by RhettLivingston (544140) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:16PM (#9390869)

    People seem to think that "experiments" like this are a cheap way to come to conclusions. But its only because they are stealing from the companies that they are experimenting on. I see no indication that the author paid for the time that he cost those companies. There was no indication that the letter he received from the US ISP was a generic one. A thought out letter, especially if a legal consult was made, can be very expensive. Even an hour of a senior employee's time would be significantly more than one would pay for a hosting service. This is not a no-harm no-foul situation.

    Before encouraging the individual to actually perform a wider "study" and rip off more companies by criticizing the size of their "study", encourage them to be considerate and responsible and not only offer all involved ISPs payment for the unnecessary work he caused, but also state that the companies were at least offered reimbursement to encourage good citizenship of others that might attempt the same type of "low cost" study.

  • The other way around (Score:5, Interesting)

    by broothal (186066) <christian@fabel.dk> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:16PM (#9390873) Homepage Journal
    The problem is not that ISPs "acting as judge, jury and private investigator at the same time." . It's rather that they're not acting as jury nor a private investigator. They're not investigating wether the copyright is actually infringed or not.

    6 years ago I was hired to track down websites that used my clients copyrighted pictures. It was never a problem to get the pictures removed. Of course, I could prove that my client had the copyright, but it would be a lenghty procedure. So, the ISP's took my word for it, thinking that if my claims where false, the person who uploaded the pictures would complain. I think it's the same reasoning we see today.
  • UK ISP revealed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PhilHibbs (4537) <snarks@gmail.com> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:18PM (#9390903) Homepage Journal
    Google [google.co.uk] reveals that the only web sites with sitebuilder/tandc.htm in their URLs are Freeserve/Wanadoo, and the pdf of the article describing the takedown. Therefore it must have been Freeserve or Wanadoo, who are the same company now. I'm glad I have started to move away from Freeserve, although most of my web site is still on their servers, I haven't migrated most of it yet.
  • If the ISPs are responsible for policing content, then they are also responsible for all the SPAM and kiddie pr0n and should be shut down. If they are a common carrier like the phone companies, then they should be barred from monitoring traffic or archiving emails without a court order. Obviously the ISPs and regulators want them to play in the middle somewhere - control without accountability.
  • Censorship (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brandybuck (704397) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:19PM (#9390909) Homepage Journal
    But why private governance should be less intrusive than government regulation is something I have never quite understood. State censorship, while clearly problematic, is at least open to questioning and accountability. Notice and takedown is censorship without debate.

    There are three differences:

    1) Choice. Although you can question and debate state censorship, you have no options beyond that questioning and debate. If your government doesn't want you reading Mill's "On Liberty", your only real options are to defect or revolt. But for a private ISP, newspaper, radio station, etc, you have a choice. You have more than one ISP. You have more than one newspaper.

    2) Guns. State censorship is backed up by guns, police, armies and navies. If they don't want you to publish a political screed, you're going to be in a world of hurt of you do. Private ISPs can't do anything but cancel your account. The MOST they can do is tell the state that you publishing a political screed, in which case this is an instance of state censorship anyway.

    3) Ownership. Who owns the speech that should be free? In the case of state censorship, the state restricts your property of free speech. It has to leave its domain and intrude upon yours. But the situation is the opposite with private ISPs. The website is hosted on the ISPs property. It's their harddrive. They aren't intruding upon your property, but looking after their own. They never have to leave their private domain in order to restrict how their property is being used.
  • anonymoust coward? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigbigbison (104532) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:19PM (#9390919) Homepage
    I wonder why he didn't name names? I don't see much threat of a lawsuit because he is just reporting what happened. Indeed, since he didn't do a very big test, it would be nice to know who failed the test.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:19PM (#9390920)
    I have two issues with this article.

    First, the sample size is pathetic. Let's sample two ISPs, one in the UK and one in the US, and then draw overly broad conclusions based on those two results. Sounds good to me! (Or perhaps it sounds like a quick, insufficient study trying to support a premise rather than gathering evidence for one.)

    Second, the article pays lip service to the issue as seen from the ISPs' point of view. (Granted I'm speaking entirely from the US side of things as I am unfamiliar with UK law in this regard.) ISPs have to deal with the DMCA. Okay, the author mentions this in passing. The author also, again in passing, mentions that ISPs carry liability for the information they host. Put the two together and what do you get? Take down first, look at it later.

    However, the point is not that internet self-regulation is a bad form of regulation in itself. Instead, it is that the power an ISP has over content on the internet necessitates a clarification of the legal and governance framework. There ought to be rules about process. In other areas of governance it matters who governs and under what terms - this is also the case in borderless cyberspace.

    There are rules and there is a process. It just happens that the author doesn't want to confront them dead-on. "ISPs have too much power, watch what happens when I threaten one!" just isn't a valid tactic in today's litigious society. That's akin to saying "Look at this! If I file a phoney report with the Police about my neighbor being a homicidal murderer, sometimes they come arrest him when they catch him holding a knife!" Flakey at best.
  • It's pretty clear what the motivation for removing the content is. Take a look at the choices:
    • Take it down. If it really is copywritten material, then you won't hear from the user. If not, then the user will contact you and offer facts and their personal attribution that it's legal. (Think due dillgence.) Cost to ISP: $0.
    • Leave it up. If it's copywritten, you'll probably be spending thousands of dollars on lawyers in the near future. Cost to ISP: $Lots.

    Considering that the cost of any legal action wou

  • So? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fizzl (209397) <fizzl@fizzl.nMOSCOWet minus city> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:20PM (#9390926) Homepage Journal
    This is a nonissue.
    If the point was to demostrate that you could take something off the internet by forging a copyright notice, I'm not too concerned.
    You break multiple laws by doing that. No need to invent new ones.
    We are also talking about digital content on the internet, which is trivial to reproduce from backups or what have you. Most likely the ISP wouldn't really delete the content but relocate it to unreachable place incase a mistake happens.

    I have to admit I would be a bit miffed if this happened to me. Then again, I run my own server so that rather unlikely. ;)
  • by Grimster (127581) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:20PM (#9390943) Homepage
    Don't blame the isp, as a web host I have to worry about DMCA crap, RIAA, MPAA, piracy, lawyers, lawsuits, and litigation. After a while I simply adopt the attitude of "you guys figure this out, send me a copy of the court ruling, if it's OK to have it we'll put the site back, if it's not OK to have it then the site stays down".

    No one wants to get caught in the middle of this crap, it's ALL too easy to make these bogus claims and it's ALL too easy to make GOOD on even bogus claims when things such as the DMCA and Patriot Act are out there to give censorship such a big stick.

    I don't like censorship, but I don't like flinging my wallet at some sheister lawyer either. In the end I have to weigh the lesser of two evils and while I hate censorship I hate being bankrupt thanks to lawyers or imprisoned thanks to REALLY BAD LAWS even more.
  • by mjh (57755) <mark AT hornclan DOT com> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:28PM (#9391010) Homepage Journal
    Ignoring the other comments that talk about the sample size being small, and that this "censorship" is being conducted by private companies, not the government, I still think this is off base.

    He seems to have the assumption that we should attempt to create some method of governance for this kind of thing. Why is that necessary? Individuals can already self-regulate ISPs that do this stuff - they can switch to another ISP. Governmental regulation or policing of this is problematic. This implies some sort of governmental body. If you don't like the people who are running that body, you can only vote them out once every election cycle. However, in the current system, if you don't like the governance of your ISP, you can vote them out as frequently as you like - there's no law that says you can only switch ISPs once every election cycle.

    I disagree with the premise that the only solution to prevent this type of silliness is to create a regulating body. That makes things much worse because it eliminates choice. Instead of rewarding the ISPs with the sensible behavior, they'll all have to behave identically. No more voting with your dollars. Additionally, this will likely lead to price increases for ISP services. Those ISPs that didn't activelly enforce this stuff today (the good ones) now will have to. A cost that will certiainly be passed to the customers.

    IMHO: this is a good problem to solve, but the wrong assumption on how to fix it.
  • by Tsu Dho Nimh (663417) <abacaxi@hotmaiBOYSENl.com minus berry> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:29PM (#9391029)
    See this link [arizona.edu]

    And look at counternotices on: this page [utsystem.edu]

    There is a formal procedure that ISPs follow, and considerable protection for both the copyright owner and the page owner.

  • private companys (Score:3, Insightful)

    by panxerox (575545) * on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:33PM (#9391079)
    ISP's are private companys like ebay, ebay's policy is that they remove the an auction item if the IP of an item is questioned in any way (by anyone). No questions asked, no appeal. have your auctions questioned twice and they kick you off. Private company's are in it for the buck not to protect your rights, the real problem is the legal system that instills this level of fear in people and companys.
  • The ISPs in Question (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheSpoom (715771) * <slashdot @ u b e rm00.net> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:33PM (#9391080) Homepage Journal
    According to research, the ISPs in question are Lycos [lycos.com] for the US ISP (mentioned directly in the PDF a few times where he probably meant to x out) and Wanadoo [wanadoo.co.uk] (note in the PDF that their site was johannamuhle.mysite.xxxxx.com, and that Wanadoo hosts sites under that DNS).

    Keep in mind that I could be wrong here, this is only from some quick research on Google.
  • by potus98 (741836) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:33PM (#9391081) Journal

    ...The US ISP followed up on the dubious complaint... with detailed questions. But the UK ISP took the site down almost immediately, effectively censoring legal content without investigation.

    ISPs this, ISPs that. The writer tested TWO ISPs and only ONE responded in an immediately censoring manner. The other provided a detailed questionaire for more information. I'm not suggesting the author doesn't raise a valid freedom of speach concern, but I wouldn't call a "secret shopper" experiement of TWO ISPs statistically useful.

    If you're going to do secret investigation hidden camera secret shopper style journalism, you need to select a larger group than TWO ISPs.

  • Relatively easy fix? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kazoo the Clown (644526) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:40PM (#9391149)

    Seems to me, one way to pump up the visibility of this particular problem is to generate bogus copyright complaints on a couple of choice items that would cause a rucus-- though I can't think of one offhand, I'll bet a little thought would produce some interesting potential candidates. Having some Microsoft marketing announcements pulled, for example, might cause some force to be exerted on the problem.

    Of course, there is the slight problem of the liability it might expose the claimer to (fraudulent claims), but I would imagine there are probably a few ways to circumvent that...

    Disclaimer: I am not recommending illegal activity here, just pointing out the effect a few targeted cases of fraudulent IP claims might have.

  • by fizban (58094) <fizban@umich.edu> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:45PM (#9391199) Homepage
    This test is called the Pompous Bastard Test (PBT, for short) and it goes something like this:

    First, count how many commas, semicolons or colons a writer uses in his sentences. Second, use the chart below to determine the writer's Pompous Bastard Quotient (PBQ):

    x <= 1: Dubyass
    1 < x <= 3: Normal
    3 < x <= 6: Somewhat Cocky
    6 < x: Pompous Bastard

    Let's take a few examples from the above mentioned text:

    "The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar, particularly in that of Greece, Rome, and England."

    3 commas. Seems pretty Normal so far.

    "THE subject of this Essay is not the so-called Liberty of the Will, so unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of Philosophical Necessity; but Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual."

    Ooooh, 4 commas (2 commas, 1 semicolon, 1 colon). Getting a little cocky here.

    "It is so far from being new, that, in a certain sense, it has divided mankind, almost from the remotest ages, but in the stage of progress into which the more civilized portions of the species have now entered, it presents itself under new conditions, and requires a different and more fundamental treatment."

    7 commas. Pompous Bastard. Could be a fluke.

    "First, by obtaining a recognition of certain immunities, called political liberties or rights, which it was to be regarded as a breach of duty in the ruler to infringe, and which, if he did infringe, specific resistance, or general rebellion, was held to be justifiable."

    8 Freaking Commas. Wow, he really is a Pompous Bastard.

    BTW, I'm not commenting on the content of the writer's work, just on his Pompousness; and whew, this guy, whether he knows it or not, is a real, God-damn, Pompous Bastard.

    ooops.
  • Identity of ISPs. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by prizog (42097) <novalis-slashdot ... g ['is.' in gap]> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @03:46PM (#9391210) Homepage
    The UK ISP is almost certainly Wanadoo [google.com] (note the poorly redacted URL in the UK ISP's letter).

    The US ISP is Lycos (they forgot to blank one instance out in the PDF [ox.ac.uk]).

    Oops.
  • by eltoyoboyo (750015) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @04:38PM (#9391872) Journal
    You could quite effectively put most web sites out of commission by using a method detailed here. [wikipedia.org] Anecdotal evidence [geek.com] shows that an increase in traffic can effectivly deny viewing of content and, in fact, bring a monetary burden to the web host customer. The results are almost immediate compared to action from a DMCA letter.
  • by xant (99438) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @04:54PM (#9392062) Homepage
    provided a followup step occurred, and certain events then took place.

    The follow-up step:
    1) Contact the ISP(s) that took down the material.
    2) Inform them that the material they took down was public domain, or you really own the material or whatever
    3) Request that they restore it, and (optional) request a refund for the period of time it was down

    The events that should occur:
    The ISP in question should obey all your instructions, and refuse to take down the material again until they hear from a legal authority.

    They have a duty to protect themselves; I just want to see that they are concerned about protecting themselves from both lawsuits on *both* sides.
  • My experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rduke15 (721841) <rduke15NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @06:04PM (#9392703)
    I host about 20 domains for clients on my server.

    I once received a letter from lawyers asking me to put a client's site down.

    I called the client then only replied with an email saying something like "You say it's illegal, but I understand my client's lawyers disagree. I'm only an ISP, not a lawyer, so I will let you sort this out between professionals. I will close the site if and when I receive an official decision from a judge telling me to do so."

    I didn't even word it in a more sophisticated way than above. That email took me 5 minutes. Less than the time to take the site down and notify/apologize/explain the matter to the client (who got a Cc of my reply).

    Why would any ISP do it differently and just let down his client, to please some anonymous lawyer?

    Of course, I would probably have acted differently if the site had been something I consider clearly unacceptable. But it was just about 2 parties accusing each other of being crooks.

    Anyway, I never heard of these lawyers again, but heard much later from my client that they actually did go to court, and were dismissed.

    If the site is not *very* obviously illegal, why would an ISP act as a judge?
  • by Audacious (611811) on Thursday June 10, 2004 @07:36PM (#9393409) Homepage
    Just because it is difficult to regulate the internet, this is no reason to resort to badly crafted forms of regulation, which move the entire burden on to unaccountable actors. Drink driving is also difficult to police, but we wouldn't shift responsibility for this on to private companies, would we?

    He obviously has never been to Texas. In Texas it is the responsibility of the person who sold the person the drink. Such as the bar at which the person drank. This is what I call the religious sect's outlook of "I am my brother's keeper". It is a great sentiment but goes against the foundation of the Constitution. (Which is basically that each person is responsible for their own actions.)

    The main problem with ISPs being judge, jury, and executioner - is that: 1)There is no common sense being applied in many cases, 2)There are no clear cut laws with regards to this issue, 3)In some cases you are guilty until proven innocent rather than the other way around (and thus sites are pulled before even hearing from the defendants), and 4)Once gone it is very hard, in some cases, to get the ISP to put the site back up without legal intervention.

    What should be happening is that there should be a governing body (such as ICANN) where grievances can be heard via IRC or e-mail which lists the problems someone has with a website. The autoresponder should both respond to the plaintiff as well as to contact the defendant and the defendant's ISP. (In case the e-mail for the defendant bounces.) The defendant should be given a reasonable number of days to respond to the complaint and then the case should be tried on the merits of both the plaintiff as well as the defendant. In effect, a virtual system similar to our modern day jury system should be put into place which allows people to help decide what is going on on the internet just as we do in real life.

    One of the reasons our judicial system moves so slowly is because sometimes it takes a while to find out the truth about something. By putting the brakes on the immediate gratification process currently in place with ISPs; we could reduce and eliminate many of the problems currently plaguing whether or not a site is a valid site or if it should be taken down. And yes, this could mean an increase in the use of lawyers. But it doesn't necessarily mean that would happen. For instance, it could be decided that common English (and not legal speak) is the only language accepted in the proceedings thus removing the need to hire a lawyer. (But somehow I doubt that would actually happen.)

    Still, a trial by a jury of your peers would require a system set up where people are picked, at random, to aid in determining if a website should or should not be removed. I know - many people are going to cry "It can't be done!" or "That would be impossible to set up". The answer is - no it would not be impossible to set up and yes it can be done. It would just be another server which ISPs would be required to have up and running. The server keeps the user's ids and e-mails private. The server can be a secure server. The server would only accept incoming connections from one location on the net (such as ICANN). It selects users at random and requests that they click on link X to participate in the trial and things proceed from there. The ISPs can maintain their lists in private. People who are excluded for whatever reason are kept in a separate list. People who have participated once already are not asked to help again until the entire list has been run through, etc....

    It is not "can it be done" but more like "do we want to do it"? Most people (myself included) are lazy and would much rather be doing something enjoyable rather than trying to determine if someone has a website that is infringing on someone else's patent which the USPTO has just given to them without really checking out whether or not that item was patented over a hundred years ago or not. Or if the copyright claim really originated in the late 1500s. Or even if "f
  • by tacocat (527354) <tallison1@twmi . r r .com> on Thursday June 10, 2004 @11:01PM (#9394499)

    How many people realized that the US ISP actually came back with some questions and confirmation before taking action?

    Regardless of all the crummy things that are said about the US, and I'm not exactly a zealot here, it should be of significance that this little test did bear one thing out.

    The US still has some attempt at considering your right to free speech somewhere in their bones. All this despite our rapidly building demonstrations on the international circuit of Human Rights Violations through censorship and McCarthyism tactics of condemnation by the government.

    I'm actually encouraged that there is still some hope for Free Speech in the world

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