Media Law Roundup: November 10th

Welcome to the November 10, 2014  Media Law Roundup — a survey of the week’s developing media news.

President Obama Sides with Net Neutrality

In an official statement posted to the White House website on November 10, 2014, President Obama urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt strict rules enforcing a free and open internet. The President suggested that the FCC recognize the internet as a basic utility, and listed several principles to which these rules should adhere, including: “no website or service should be blocked by an internet service provider; no content should be purposefully slowed down or sped up; there should be more transparency about where traffic is routed; and no paid deals should be made to provide a speed advantage to some providers over others.” Verizon Wireless reacted to the statement, saying that Obama’s proposal would “threaten great harm to the internet.” Consumer groups spoke out in favor of the President’s proposal, with Gene Kimmelman of Public Knowledge saying that Obama’s administration “support[ed] the strongest tools to prevent blocking or throttling of internet traffic.” President Obama had previously been criticized for not taking a stronger stance on net neutrality.


Pirate Bay Founder Arrested

Hans Fredrik Lennart Neij, the co-founder of file-sharing site Pirate Bay, was arrested in Thailand on November 4, 2014. Pirate Bay became a popular site for sharing copyrighted films, music, and more, which in 2009 led to charges against its founders for “encouraging copyright infringement.” In addition to one-year jail sentences, Neij and his co-founders were required to pay a combined total of 46 million kronor ($8.8 million) copyright damages. He fled Sweden after he had been released on bail. Neij, known online as TiAmo, had been living in Laos since 2012. He was arrested while trying to enter Thailand, where it is believed he owned another home.


Increase in Facebook Calls for Content Restriction and Requests for Data

From 2013-2014, Facebook has seen a dramatic increase in the number of government requests for content restrictions. The largest number of these requests (4,960) came from India, the result of “local laws prohibiting criticism of a religion or the state.” Turkey followed with the second-highest number of requests (1,893) under “local laws prohibiting defamation or criticism of Ataturk or the Turkish state.” Pakistan produced the third-highest amount of such requests (1,773) under “local laws prohibiting blasphemy and criticism of the state.” Across the globe, government requests for user data numbered 34,946 from January to June 2014. Chris Sonderby, Facebook’s Deputy General Counsel, said in a blog post on November 4, 2014, that the company “scrutinize[s] every government request we received for legal sufficiency under or terms and the strict letter of the law, and push back hard when we find deficiencies or are served with overly broad requests.” Sonderby went to on to say that Facebook is “aggressively pursuing an appeal to a higher court to invalidate these sweeping warrants and to force the government to return the data it has seized.”


Piracy Crackdown in Germany

On November 4, 2014, police in Cologne, Germany announced that they had conducted raids on 121 homes as part of a raid on piracy. Specifically targeted were users of file-sharing site Boerse which, despite discouraging the sharing of copyrighted material in its terms of service, still hosted uploads newly released music albums and films. Officials have said that some suspects are open to cooperation with the police as they continue to hunt for the site’s operators. Currently, Boerse is still active.


US/European Joint Operation Shuts Down 400+ Dark Web Sites

A joint operation amongst the United States and several European countries resulted in the termination of over four hundred “dark net” websites. These sites were powered by the Tor network, which offers users a less-traceable and therefore more secure internet browsing experience. The takedown shuttered Silk Road 2.0, a replacement for the original Silk Road drug trading website that was shut down in 2013, and saw an estimated one million dollars-worth of Bitcoins seized. Troels Oerting of Europol said, “Today we have demonstrated that, together, we are able to efficiently remove vital criminal infrastructures that are supporting serious organized crime.”


China Denies Shutting Down Foreign Sites

Lu Wei, the director of China’s State Internet Information Office, denied that the Chinese government had “shut down” foreign websites, though he acknowledged that several foreign websites such as Twitter, Facebook, and the New York Times were inaccessible. In his comments at a recent press conference on October 30, 2014, Lu stated that China would be strengthening efforts to “govern the internet.” “We are going to further strengthen our rule of law, our administration, governance and usage of the internet, and use the law to specify behavior in the online space.”


Pianist Requests That Negative Review Be Forgotten

Pianist Dejan Lazic has requested that the Washington Post remove a 2010 review under the “right to be forgotten” European Union ruling. Lazic’s request has not been honored, as the ruling only applies to search engines and not to publishers, and then only to search engines as they operate within the confines of the European Union. Nevertheless, the Washington Post views this as an example of the difficulties in enforcing the “right to be forgotten” ruling. As Post journalist Caitlin Dewey writes: “Whose truth is right: the composer’s or the critic’s? And more critically, who gets to decide?”


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