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Categorized | Politics

Watch Out for Another Cyberlaw

Opponents of the Cybercrime Act should be wary of another cyberlaw looming in Congress. Buhay Party-List Representatives Irwin Tieng and Mariano Michael Velarde handed in to the Fifteenth Congress last May, House Bill 6187, proposing An Act to Prohibit Online Piracy and Providing Penalties for Violation Thereof.

Tieng, whose uncle owns Solar Entertainment, said in a Congressional press release that piracy was “no more justifiable than shoplifting.” Together with Velarde, son of El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde, they proposed sanctions against pirates including a minimum of one year in jail for first time offenders, with a maximum of five years after the third offense. Fines proposed by the bill range from P 50,000 to P 1,000,000.

The bill, just one page and a half long excluding the opening note, is quite worrisome with its vague wording ripe for abuse—the same problems plaguing the Cybercrime Act. The brevity of HB 6187 betrays a fundamental misunderstanding on the authors’ part of how the Internet has changed common notions of economics, property, and scarcity (the comparison with “shoplifting” encapsulates this gross lack of comprehension). The bill criminalizes two acts, namely, making copies “not authorized by the copyright owner” and offering goods or services or providing access to media in a manner “not authorized by the copyright owner.”

This kind of wording is imprecise enough to make converting your own media discs illegal. Creating MP3s from your legally-owned CDs falls under “making copies” and doing so without explicit authorization from the copyright owner could land you in jail. Thus, the media industry could sell you several different formats of the same movie or song that you already own just because you wanted a copy for your portable device. Cloud-based backups for private use would be made illegal as saving your media online would entail “uploading” and “downloading” copyrighted data. The same kinds of problems came about when the United States passed its own legislation against copyright infringement, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, with the Motion Picture Association of America (to which Tieng is reported to have links) arguing that consumers could not make copies of their own discs.

Unwittingly streaming copyrighted content to your computer could also result in imprisonment. Every time your computer uses Internet data, it creates copies, often temporary, for local access. Such a scenario would be common for visiting sites like YouTube, which hosts many videos that use unlicensed copyrighted content (e.g. background music, concerts, and TV or movie clips). Unlicensed streaming to another computer that you own would also be in violation of the bill. Such slights, which are standard for anyone with Internet access, show just how the replicability of digital data cannot be so easily wished away by thuggish legislation.

In terms of implementation, Tieng and Velarde provide no concrete methods of combating piracy and leave it to the Department of Justice to determine how it would go about this, clinching this bill’s vagueness to the point of absurdity. It is not hard to foresee that determining offenders of the proposed bill would require the DOJ’s use of Orwellian methods such as the real time data snooping legalized by the Cybercrime Act, further encroaching on the right to privacy.

Since the dawn of the VHS, piracy has been made the perennial bogeyman of the media industry in order to lobby for draconian legislation, such as SOPA and PIPA, and stifle freedom of expression (citizens who make mixes, mashups, parodies, even birthday slideshows, should be concerned)—all without concrete evidence regarding its impact.

Even the United States government has been unable to ascertain whether piracy has any detrimental effects at all on the media industry, concluding that it is “difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the net effect of counterfeiting and piracy on the economy as a whole.” (Julian Sanchez of the libertarian Cato Institute has a sober analysis of the reality of digital piracy and Internet regulation and how “reports of the death of the [media industry as a result of piracy] seem much exaggerated.”) Under the guise of protecting the interests of intellectual property rights holders, the media lobby submits these typically oppressive measures, all the while impugning the motives of opponents by branding them as thieves and “shoplifters”, instead of consumers and clients with rights.

Buhay Party-List, whose electoral accreditation Filipino Freethinkers has contested in COMELEC, claims to represent the unborn (without being unborn themselves). Tieng and Velarde were also the authors of HB 4509, a bill outlawing sex toys.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.