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Tech Giants Warn US Govt. Against Onerous Copyright Laws

Tech Giants Warn US Govt. Against Onerous Copyright Laws

In order to counter the ever-present threat of Internet piracy, countries all around the world are tightening their copyright laws.

These new regulations aim to help copyright holders, often by creating new obligations and restrictions for Internet service providers that host or link to infringing material.

Many Silicon Valley companies are not happy with these developments. This week the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which includes Amazon, Cloudflare, Facebook, and Google as members, sent a stark warning to the US Government.

The submission, sent to the US Trade Representative (USTR) as input for the 2019 Special 301 Report, highlights several “onerous” copyright laws and regulations.

“Foreign countries are increasingly prone to imposing onerous intellectual property-related regulations, aimed at U.S. Internet companies. These countries are pursuing legislation that disadvantages American Internet platforms, and online and cloud services,” CCIA writes.

The tech companies support a strong intellectual property system but note that this should reflect the needs of all participants, including those in the distribution supply chains.

This is not what CCIA is experiencing at the moment. The European Union and individual countries including Australia, Greece, Italy, and Ukraine, are creating new rules that hurt the operations of US companies abroad. In particular when it comes to liability for copyright infringement.

“U.S. firms operating as online intermediaries face an increasingly hostile environment in a variety of international markets. This impedes U.S. Internet companies from expanding services abroad,” CCIA writes.

“These adverse conditions manifest through court decisions and new copyright regulations that depart from global norms on intermediary responsibility,” the group adds.

In some cases, it is very clear that these new regulations are created to target US companies. The tech companies cite the op-ed the EU’s copyright rapporteur Axel Voss wrote earlier this week, where he framed Article 13 as a defense against “large US platforms.”

CCIA counters this and states that Article 13 “disrupts settled law,” making Internet platforms “directly liable for the actions of Internet users,” and requiring “unworkable filtering mandates” as well as automated “notice-and-stay-down” procedures.

“If adopted, the Directive would dramatically weaken these longstanding liability protections and exclude many modern service providers from its protections,” CCIA warns.

Article 13 is just one of a growing number of regulatory threats the CCIA views as detrimental to its members.

It also cautions against a new Australian law, which makes it possible to order search engines to block sites that are generally seen as facilitating piracy. This may lead to overblocking, the group warns.

In Ukraine, a revised article of the local copyright law now imposes 24 and 48-hour “shot clocks” for Internet services. If they don’t remove reported copyright infringements within that timeframe, they can be held liable. This can be particularly problematic for small services with limited resources.

“This deadline may be feasible at times for some larger platforms who can devote entire departments to takedown compliance, but will effectively deny market access to smaller firms and startups, and is inconsistent with the ‘expeditious’ standard under U.S. copyright law,” CCIA writes.

The group’s submission for the USTR’s 2019 Special 301 Report provides a detailed overview of these and other liability threats around the world, as well as other issues, including ancillary copyright protections.

Generally speaking, the USTR points out shortcomings in foreign copyright protections in their annual list, but the tech companies urge the US Government not to ignore the flip side of the coin.

“USTR should recognize the concerns of U.S. Internet services who not only hold intellectual property and value its protection, but also rely on innovation-enabling provisions that reflect the digital age,” CCIA concludes.

A copy of the CCIA submission for USTR’s 2019 Special 301 Report is available here (pdf).

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