Copyright Filtering in the Stimulus Bill?

[UPDATE: The agreement on the stimulus bill excludes the copyright filtering language. The proposal is not, of course, dead. So a letter to your representatives is still worthwhile, although now less urgent.]

Through the good work of advocacy groups like Public Knowledge, efforts to add legal approval of copyright filtering to the economic stimulus bill now before Congress have been thwarted — so far. Although neither the House nor the Senate version of the legislation contained the provision, it can of course be added by the conference committee. If that happened, it would be almost impossible to stop it from becoming law, given the high stakes for the overall legislation and special rules that make it essentially impossible to remove a provision by amendment.

I would oppose copyright filtering in any event, on two independent grounds dear to my heart: it is harmful to both data privacy and fair use. But adding such a complicated and far-reaching bill to the stimulus package (to which it is superfluous) — without any real debate — would be unconscionable.

PK has a web page up that allows you to fax a letter to the conference committee members; do it today before it’s too late. The letter I wrote is after the jump:

I am a law professor studying privacy and intellectual property law and new technology. I understand that efforts continue to insert a “copyright filtering” proposal into broadband development provisions of the conference report on the stimulus bill.

Any such amendment should be rejected. This issue is being portrayed as noncontroversial, but I assure you that is not so. This extremely complex issue implicates personal privacy of web users and the balance of intellectual property rights.

First, filtering opens the door for monitoring of our online reading and writing habits, seriously threatening personal intellectual privacy. Second, mechanized filtering cannot reliably detect “fair use” under copyright law, which requires human judgment. Such automatic filtering will chill free expression by shutting down perfectly legal web content.

This proposal requires greater scrutiny. I support rapid passage of the stimulus bill to help spur our economic recovery, but filtering is not necessary to allow that to happen. Please resist efforts to add it to the package.

Many thanks for your attention.

One Response to “Copyright Filtering in the Stimulus Bill?”

  1. Fair use should be expanded, not contracted. Thanks for diligently keeping an eye on Congress.