Legal issues in the news

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2012 is becoming the year of legislation and legal actions regarding Internet use. Earlier this year, proposed U.S. legislation known as SOPA and PIPA were shelved as a result of public outrage. Other actions were taken around the globe to protest ACTA, an international treaty still veiled in secrecy that also threatened to curtail the general public's activities and usage of online services.

The latest controversial piece of legislation on this front is the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on November 30, 2011 and has just been passed. Numerous groups are opposed to the bill such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Library Association, Free Press, and Canadian Internet Policy. The bill is also opposed by various politicans from President Obama to Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, but is supported by companies such as telecom carriers Verizon, U.S. Telecom, and Sprint, and tech companies such as Facebook, Symantec, IBM and Oracle. The U.S. Senate has its own version of the bill which was previously endorsed by the White House, so it's still unclear in what form the bill may pass the Senate and whether or not that might be signed by President Obama.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, which is opposed to CISPA, lists various problems with the legislation as it's currently drafted:

1) CISPA has a very broad, almost unlimited definition of the information that can be shared with government agencies and it supersedes all other privacy laws.
2) CISPA is likely to lead to expansion of the government’s role in the monitoring of private communications.
3) CISPA is likely to shift control of government cybersecurity efforts from civilian agencies to the military.
4) Once the information is shared with the government, it wouldn’t have to be used for cybersecurity, but could instead be used for other purposes.

Given the Internet's current infrastructure, anything that affects Internet traffic in the U.S. can have implications for Internet freedoms around the globe. While some in the U.S. have decided to protest CISPA by drowning legislators in personal content, those who oppose the bill can also take a more traditional approach.

A more encouraging story about online regulation has come from Australia, where their High Court refused to hold ISPs accountable for illegal downloading done through their services. The AFACT v. iiNet appeal was unanimously dismissed, with the court deciding against the case brought by movie companies including Australian branches of Hollywood studios Universal Pictures, Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox.

Holding providers liable for content posted or transmitted through their service has been a common tactic by content creators, whether of films or music. During the past week YouTube lost a court case in Germany where it was sued for royalties, and the court decided it "had not done enough to stop copyrighted clips being posted." Such cases are likely to continue around the globe in an effort to stifle consumer posting and transmission of content that music and film industry associations consider to be in violation of their ownership rights.

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