October 31, 2012
Thailand’s first blocklist was created by the Ministry of Information and Communication [sic] Technology in January 2004 during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration. It blocked 1,247 URLs by name.
Thailand’s first blocklist marked the first and only attempt at transparency by Thailand’s Internet censors. Every subsequent blocklist, the webpages blocked, the reasons for blocking and even the number of pages blocked is held in secret by Thai government.
Thailand’s first blocklist concentrated on the Patani United Liberation Organisation (PULO), a banned group of separatists from Thailand’s deep Muslim south. In subsequent years, we’ve seen how well that censorship strategy worked out. It created an enormous militant insurgency which has resulted in more than 5,000 murders.
Following Thailand’s military coup d’etat on September 19, 2006, the military’s fifth official order on its first day in power was to block the Internet. Under the coup regime, tens of thousands of webpages were blocked.
Most famously, Thailand ramped up its censorship with a complete block of popular video sharing site, YouTube, for seven months in 2007. It appeared Thai censors didn’t have the capacity to block individual videos.
Thailand was the first country to block YouTube, claiming a handful juvenile videos insulting Thailand’s monarchy were a ‘threat to national security’. Following this stand-off, Google, YouTube’s parent company, created a system of geolocational blocking which is now used to block YouTube videos in dozens of repressive regimes.
However, the coup government’s first legislative action was to promulgate the Computer Crimes Act 2007. In its first drafts, the CCA prescribed the death penalty for computer crimes; this was modified in the final law to ‘only’ 20 years in prison.
The CCA contains full censorship powers but also a provision that MICT must seek court orders for blocking. Revealing these court orders would also make blocking information public so all the court orders, paid for by Thai taxpayers, are sealed in secrecy.
An appointed Democrat administration followed the military junta. However, when mass demonstrations in 2010 threatened its power, the Abhisit Vejjajiva administration declared martial law decreeing a state of emergency. The Emergency Decree suspended all normal rule of law, as well as constitutional and international treaty protections for freedom of expression.
The Dems created two military agencies with Orwellian names and even acronyms. The Centre for the Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES) and the Centre for the Administration of Public Order (CAPO) were given complete extralegal power to censor the Internet.
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT) was just one website to be censored early by the ‘emergency’.
FACT continues to publish leaked blocklists and court orders as well as providing instructions for circumvention of Thai censorship to readers. FACT teaches its readers how to pressure ISPs and govt censors to unblock URLs. FACT has also published censorship blocklists from 16 foreign countries.
However, research by Thailand’s iLaw Foundation revealed that MICT had quietly continued to use the CCA’s provisions for blocking the Internet using court orders. Thai government was ‘legally’ blocking webpages on a wholesale basis, submitting for court order thousands of URLs each time.
The new elected opposition government has continued the folly of its predecessors. It was further revealed that Thai government censorship was rising at a rate of 690 new pages blocked every single day.
Other than court-ordered censorship, Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act has only served one further purpose. Many of Thailand’s scores of political prisoners have been charged with lèse majesté using the CCA.
This has resulted in prison sentences up to 15 years using multiple charges. Charges have not only been brought against content creators but content providers, page designers, webmasters and other intermediaries, including those overseas who dared to visit ‘the land of smiles’.
Furthermore, Thai judges have decreed that hyperlinking to ‘offensive’ or ‘inappropriate’ content is just as criminal as publishing it. Unspecified delay in removing such commentary is also illegal. And so is clicking ‘Like’ on Facebook.
Thailand’s censorship has shown no signs of abating and almost none of the webpages blocked during the ‘emergency’ have been unblocked. In 2012, more than 90,000 Facebook pages were blocked. So are online pharmacies and gambling sites.
Many observers think Thai government censorship solely targets alleged lèse majesté. However, the fact is, we are not allowed the freedom of expression about anything guaranteed by our Constitution.
Meanwhile, Thai censorship that we know about continues to rise at a rate of 690 new blocked URLs every day. In fact, with complete secrecy by Thai censors, the real number is likely to be far higher.
The cost to society by creating a dumbed-down public not in possession of all the facts is impossible to quantify. The economic costs, however, can be. To block 690 web pages, Thai government spends THB 1.5 million (USD $50,000), or THB 2,174 (USD $71) per URL.
To date, Thailand has spent THB 2,173,913,043—more than two billion baht—(almost USD $71 million) to censor our Internet.
On December 28, 2011, Thailand was blocking 777,286 webpages. Today, November 1, 2012, Thailand blocks ONE MILLION URLs—Happy Halloween.
Freedom Against Censorship Thailand (FACT)
Bangkok: October 31, 2555
Global Voices: July 13, 2012
If you use Internet in Tajikistan and participate in online discussions, beware the Big Brother that will be watching you soon. On July 12, 2012, the country’s authorities announced [ru] that they are planning to create an organization to monitor online publications and websites for “insulting” and “slanderous” content. Beg Zukhurov, the state telecommunications chief, said the new organization will recruit a group of volunteers, including from among local journalists. These volunteers will “track down and identify” individuals who publish materials and leave comments deemed insulting to the country’s leadership.
In fact, the authorities claim [ru] they have already identified a “small group of people who are engaged in this indecent behavior while hiding behind aliases and nicknames”. According to Zukhurov, these people “purposefully badmouth decent people” and they do it “for big money they receive from the enemies of the Tajik people”.
And what will happen to people caught leaving “indecent” comments that insult “decent” government officials? The Tajik telecommunications tsar said [ru] he did not know but speculated that such individuals might be “cured” and “put on the right track” by “relevant” agencies.
Tajikistan’s netizens have responded to the news with a flurry of angry comments left on news websites and social media platforms. Jasur Ashurov writes on Twitter:
Here comes the Big Brother that will watch us all in Tajikistan.
In an ICT-related public group on Facebook, Parvina Ibodova asks [ru]:
что это? зачем? на каких основаниях? кто уполномочил? кто будет определять наличие/отсутствие клеветы и/или оскорблений (а суды куда денем в таком случае??) ???
What is it? Why? Based on what? Who has authorized this? Who will decide whether there is insulting or slanderous content? And what are we going to do about the courts in this case???
Underneath a news report on Asia-Plus’s website, Nora writes [ru]:
аааа куда мы, люди? Что за фигня происходит с государством??? И какие нахрен добровольцы? Кто вам тут сидеть будет и все за бесплатно проверять? Опять же деньги с и без того бедствующего народа! Объясните мне, пожалуйста, зачем нам нужна конституция, когда, казалось бы чиновники- послы народа, наплевали на нее и на народ??? Да черт возьми, где мои права???
Where are we heading, folks? What the hell is happening with the state??? Which volunteers are they talking about? Who will monitor everything for free? This will require more money from the nation that is already poor! Could someone please explain to me why do we need the constitution when officials – formally the people’s ambassadors – do not give a damn about it and about the people??? Hell, where are my rights???
Under the same report, Tor asks [ru]:
А как же демократия и свобода слова? Или Господин Зухуров забыл про такие пункты в Конституции страны???
And what about democracy and the freedom of expression? Has Mr. Zukhurov forgotten that these things are provided for in the country Constitution???
Olga adds [ru]:
Это идиотизм, по другому назвать эту инициативу не могу. В этой стране все много хуже, чем я думала. Я имею право критиковать Рахмона, потому что он избранный нами президент, он не король а всего лишь чиновник. И подхалимы типа Бега Зухурова не имеют право указывать что и про кого мне думать. Банановая республика!
This is idiocy. I cannot find any other description for this initiative. Everything in this country is much worse than I thought. I have the right to criticize Rahmon [Tajikistan’s leader] because he is the president we have elected; he is not a king, he is just a public official. And sycophants like Beg Zukhurov have no right to tell me what I should think about people. A banana republic!
Some netizens began sending around links to anonymity networks and proxy sites, suggesting that the authorities do not have the technical capacity to monitor all Internet activity in the country.
As Andrew Katkenov writes [ru]:
Ну и чушь полная, У нас своего контента очень мало, а кто им даст доступ из вне, даже если заблокируют, то только для таджикистана, но кому нужно тот найдет выход. В период когда блокировали фейс, статистика по Alexa показала что посещения с Таджикистана снизилась всего лишь на 15%
This is nonsense. We have very little of domestic content [in the Tajik segment of Internet]. Nobody will give them access to external websites. Even if they block [some resources], the block will be effective in Tajikistan only. And people will find a way [to overcome the local block]. When they were blocking Facebook, statistics showed that the number of visits to the website from Tajikistan dropped by 15 percent only.
Mavzuna Abdurahmanova believes [ru] that the initiative will lead the authorities to block Facebook where many Tajkistanis routinely criticize the authorities:
будем ждать, мне кажется первым закроют фейсбук, тут по высказываниям довольных граждан очень мало.
Let’s wait. I think Facebook will be the first to be shut down, [because] based on comments, there are not many satisfied citizens here.
The authorities blocked local access to Facebook for a short period in early March, after materials critical of the country’s president were shared on the website. Then, in June, the government shut down for several days the country’s main independent news website, Asia-Plus, because of reader comments considered insulting to senior government officials under a story it had published.
Interestingly, Beg Zukhurov’s comments about “subversive” and “indecent” Internet users seems to echo the rhetoric used by government officials in neighboring Uzbekistan. On July 10, Uzbekistan’s state television denounced social networks like Facebook and Russian-based Odnoklassniki [Classmates] as “dangerous weapons” used by the country’s “enemies” to brainwash Uzbek youth. The country’s nationals were encouraged to use “domestic” social networks such as the recently launched Youface.
Alexander Sodiqov has contributed to this post.
July 17, 2012
U.S. Pursuing a Middleman in Web Piracy
The New York Times: July 12, 2012
Richard O’Dwyer, an enterprising 24-year-old college student from northern England, has found himself in the middle of a fierce battle between two of America’s great exports: Hollywood and the Internet.
At issue is a Web site he started that helped visitors find American movies and television shows online. Although the site did not serve up pirated content, American authorities say it provided links to sites that did. The Obama administration is seeking to extradite Mr. O’Dwyer from Britain on criminal charges of copyright infringement. The possible punishment: 10 years in a United States prison.
The case is the government’s most far-reaching effort so far to crack down on foreigners suspected of breaking American laws. It is unusual because it goes after a middleman, who the authorities say made a fair amount of money by pointing people to pirated content. Mr. O’Dwyer’s backers say the prosecution goes too far, squelching his free-speech right to publish links to other Web sites.
Mr. O’Dwyer did not respond to requests for an interview, but his mother, Julia, a nurse with the state-run health service, described him as a somewhat reserved young man who grew up playing Super Mario games on his computer and became devoted to coding. He studies interactive media and animation at Sheffield Hallam University and, his mother said, long ago spent the money he had made from his Web site.
“He would take his mates to the cinema and pay for them,” she said.
No matter how Mr. O’Dwyer’s legal problems are resolved, the case against him reflects the complexities of wrestling with piracy in the digital age.
The entertainment industry lobbied Congress hard for the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, which was withdrawn this year after an online uproar led by Web companies and their consumers. Another bill on Capitol Hill would establish intellectual property attachés in American embassies. An international antipiracy treaty, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, or ACTA, was roundly rejected last week by the European Parliament.
In the last two years, the Obama administration has closed about 800 Web sites suspected of piracy, including those that stream new Hollywood films. In a widely publicized case, the Justice Department has sought to extradite the operators of Megaupload, a site that let users anonymously share movies and music, on criminal copyright infringement.
“There is a problem of copyright infringement on the Internet, and copyright owners have been struggling over how to deal with that,” said Mark A. Lemley, a Stanford law professor who has represented Internet companies like Google in intellectual property disputes. “The U.S. government is aggressively getting involved in turning what used to be civil lawsuits into criminal cases. The combination of that and reaching across the border is new.”
The extradition case against Mr. O’Dwyer has turned him into something of a cause célèbre. Wikipedia’s founder, Jimmy Wales, is leading a crusade to save him, with an online petition that has gathered over 225,000 signatures worldwide in two weeks.
Still, the British home secretary, Theresa May, approved the extradition order in March and said Monday that she would let the order stand. Mr. O’Dwyer has appealed; a hearing in Britain is expected this fall.
His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. The federal prosecutors in New York who are handling the case also declined to comment. The criminal complaint against Mr. O’Dwyer is sealed.
Mr. O’Dwyer’s story began in 2008 when he set up his Web site, TVShack.net, which allowed users to search for and link to other sites, including ones that the authorities say showed pirated movies and shows. Because the domain name was registered in the United States, it fell under the ambit of American law. The government shut down TVShack.net in summer 2010.
Mr. O’Dwyer was unbowed. TVShack.net had been growing in popularity, and it made about $230,000 from advertising over the course of two years, federal prosecutors say.
“America? They have nothing to do with me,” Mr. O’Dwyer’s mother said he had told her. He reopened his site as TVShack.cc, which he reckoned was beyond the reach of the United States.
A few months later came a knock on the door from the British police. A judge ruled that Mr. O’Dwyer would not be prosecuted in Britain. Instead, the United States would seek to extradite him.
His mother was stunned. “This is for fugitives and murderers and terrorists,” she recalled thinking. “Richard has never fled the scene of a crime. He has never left the U.K.!”
A judge released Mr. O’Dwyer on bail. On his mother’s orders, he shut down his site, which makes it difficult to tell how it operated.
At the heart of the O’Dwyer case is a question of what to do about Web sites that help users find unlicensed content.
According to British court documents examined by The New York Times, the Justice Department argues that Mr. O’Dwyer enabled Internet users to easily avail themselves of copyrighted material by providing links to third-party sites that contained thousands of pirated films and television programs.
Prosecutors say that on one day in 2010, his Web site contained links to seven films, described as the “most popular movies today,” that were still playing in theaters and had not been authorized for distribution on the Internet.
Mr. O’Dwyer, prosecutors suggest, was aware the material was copyrighted. They cite an announcement on TVShack that urged users to be patient with download times because they were “saving quite a lot of money (especially when putting several visits to the theater or seasons together).”
Ted Shapiro, the Motion Picture Association of America’s general counsel for Europe, said the fact that Mr. O’Dwyer had not stored illegal material on TVShack itself signaled that he knew how to evade the law.
“The fact that the U.S. government is willing to step up and protect content from the film industry and the copyright sector is an amazingly important thing,” Mr. Shapiro said. “We are talking about protecting things Americans are good at.”
Mr. O’Dwyer’s backers say his site was effectively a search engine. To prosecute him, they argue, would set a dangerous precedent — tantamount to holding one person accountable for the acts of another.
“Something that lets you find illegal content can also help you find legal content,” said Mitch Stoltz, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “When you go after intermediaries, you’re going to shut down legal and legitimate speech and commerce and innovation to get at what they perceive as illegal copyright violation.”
Peter Decherney, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who wrote the book “Hollywood’s Copyright Wars: From Edison to the Internet,” said the O’Dwyer case showed how difficult Hollywood has made it for people in other countries to consume American entertainment online.
Sites like Netflix, Hulu and iTunes have limited offerings overseas, if any. The demand for American entertainment drives a lucrative underground economy of pirated movies and television shows.
“In many other countries, unauthorized distribution is the only form of online distribution,” said Mr. Decherney, “and consumers will continue to make Robin Hoods out of anyone who can help them get to media online.”
Avery Morrow Falkvinge on Infopolicy: July 13, 2012 http://falkvinge.net/2012/07/13/new-japanese-copyright-law-doesnt-seem-to-make-any-sense/ Beginning this October Japan will experience a totally new copyright regime. Piracy in Japan has always been especially dangerous. The police monitor file sharing networks, and pirates will occasionally be raided by cops and have their computers displayed on the evening news. From 2012 on, though, violators can face two years in prison for criminal downloading. But what exactly makes a download criminal? The Agency for Cultural Affairs, which oversees the law, is having a hard time defining what, exactly, constitutes criminal piracy under the new law. First, let’s address the definition of the word “download”. With this new law, you have a blanket permission to stream any and all pirated YouTube videos, but saving permanent copies of these videos will be a big no-no. However, saving comic strips from websites will be fine, and you can copy and paste all the text you like, because the Agency for Cultural Affairs has interpreted the word “download” as implying an audiovisual recording and not any other type of binary data. There is no stated logic behind this, and there has not yet been any ruling on, say, converting a video into a picture of a film strip. Next, the Agency for Cultural Affairs gives us a rather inspired ruling of “illegal download”: it claims that TV shows which have been broadcast and are not yet available on DVD or Blu-Ray may be downloaded freely, because they were broadcast for free! However, you can still be sued for piracy as a civil offense. Furthermore, there are existing criminal charges for people who upload such videos. Let’s move along to recordings of unknown provenance, which curious readers often find on the Internet. Most of the law requires that you have an intent to acquire works illegally when you download, which does not appear to be easily provable. In fact, there does not appear to be anyone in Japan who believes that intent can be proven if there is some doubt at work. One lawyer guesses that “it’s hard to imagine that songs have been officially allowed to go on peer-to-peer networks,” so making Gnutella your tool of choice for finding those great Jonathan Coulton songs will apparently make you a suspicious character. How does an artist make it clear that his material is safe to download? The Agency for Cultural Affairs asks Internet users to look for a recording industry trademark called the L Mark, but this trademark can’t be used by just anyone; artists must join the Recording Industry Association of Japan and pay money to use the mark, which is currently employed by no more than 300 websites. There is no word on whether a Creative Commons mark or public domain declaration can serve as a defense against inappropriate claims of criminal copyright violation. Once you have your legally acquired music and movies, you mustn’t pirate them, but feel free to e-mail them to others. E-mailing MP3s or videos to a specific friend remains legal in Japan, assuming you are not offering them as a service to pirates. You can even e-mail entire CDs that you ripped, within some reasonable limit. However, you are not allowed to circumvent the copyright protection on the few CDs that have it, so keep your hands off that Shift key. This is not legal advice, but the law is so vague that it would be surprising if it had a large impact on the number of prosecutions. Most legal cases in Japan are dropped before trial if guilt cannot be established, and plea bargained by the Kensatsu before they go to court, which is why there is an almost 100% conviction rate. Past cases suggest that only the most serious violators, like people who upload TV shows to file-sharing networks, will face prosecution. Source: Agency for Cultural Affairs (Japanese) Avery Morrow is a freelance writer specializing in history and Internet-related topics. He has worked as an intern in the U.S. Congress and with various political groups. He was born in the United States and currently lives in Japan.
Agence France-Presse: July 13, 2012
An 18-year-old Slovak is facing up to five years behind bars for posting links sharing pirated movie downloads on the Internet, police in the capital Bratislava said in a statement Friday.
An 18-year-old Slovak is facing up to five years behind bars for posting links sharing pirated movie downloads on the Internet, police in the capital Bratislava said in a statement Friday.
“He stands accused of copyright violation for posting download links to at least 150 movies on various discussion forums on the Internet,” it said.
“Since 2008, he has caused copyright holders damage worth 96,750 euros ($118,175),” the police added.
Downloading movies or music for personal use is legal in Slovakia but it is illegal to share the downloaded content on the Internet, either for commercial use or for free.
According to the justice ministry, 12 people were convicted of copyright violations in Slovakia last year.
July 17, 2012
TorrentFreak: July 9, 2012
An unprecedented new report has detailed how the destruction of Napster chilled a decade’s worth of innovation in the music industry. Through interviews with 31 CEOs, company founders, and VPs who operated in digital music during the period, we hear how Big Music collapsed startups, turned down ‘blank check’ deals, and personally threatened innovators with ruination for both them and their families.
By interviewing 31 CEOs, company founders and VPs who operated in the digital music scene during the past 10 years, Associate Professor Michael A. Carrier at Rutgers University School of Law has produced a most enlightening report on the decade long aftermath of the Napster shutdown.
The interviewees are no lightweights. Included are former Napster CEO Hank Bank, Imeem founder Dalton Caldwell, Seeqpod founder Kasian Franks, Real Networks founder Rob Glaser, Scour VP & General Counsel Craig Grossman, former Gracenote CEO David Hyman, AudioGalaxy founder Michael Merhej, founder of MP3Tunes Michael Robertson, former RIAA CEO Hilary Rosen, and numerous venture capitalists and label execs.
The result is an unprecedented report on how the shutdown of Napster chilled innovation, discouraged investment, and led to a climate of copyright law-fueled fear that pushed technologists and music further apart.
It started with a drain on cash. Interviewees reported that venture capital funding for digital music “became a wasteland”, a “scorched earth kind of place” housing a “graveyard of music companies.” With the big labels choosing where and when to sue, funding was hard to come by.
Nevertheless, some innovators didn’t give up, although when the labels were through with them many probably wished they had. The report details instances where innovators tried to get label approval but found themselves in extremely difficult situations.
One recalled that the labels “don’t license you if you don’t have traffic” but once enough footfall is achieved then “they want to get paid for ‘infringement’ and the longer it takes to license you, the larger the ‘infringement’ number they can justify charging you.”
Another described a litigation “Ponzi scheme” whereby settlements and other fees extracted from startups were used to fund the labels’ ongoing litigation strategy. However, like all Ponzi schemes there was a problem – maintaining momentum. “Once you stop suing new people there are no new settlements to pay for the ongoing litigation,” one interviewee reported.
But the labels weren’t always unreceptive to new ideas – as long as they were bad ones. The report notes that the labels were happy to take “big, up-front fees” of “10, 20 million bucks” from startups they knew wouldn’t make it. Carrier reports that a leading officer from one label admitted that they would “cripple the companies by demanding such advances and guarantees that they go belly up.”
Established services couldn’t make progress with the labels either, even when they did everything they could to avoid copyright issues. One, that boasted several million users and “interest from top-tier VCs – really the top of the top,” was also sued by the labels.
“After they sued us, our opening offer to them was: ‘You guys made your point; we will charge anything you want to charge, and you can take any percentage you want to take,” a respondent reported. “It was literally an offer of a blank check.” The labels refused and said they wanted the service shut down instead.
But for those who didn’t give in to the threats life could get very difficult, not just for their companies, but for them as individuals. The specter of personal liability often raised its head.
One innovator was told by the labels that his company would be left alone but he would be sued personally instead. “We can make all kinds of allegations and it’s your job to prove you’re not infringing,” he was told, with the labels adding that the lawsuit would cost him “between $15m and $20m.”
One of the respondents said it was “very scary” when the labels presented a “..multiple inch lawsuit for a couple billion bucks”, one with the potential to hang over his head for “the rest of [his] life.”
The threats also extended to the families of innovators. One was told it was “too bad” he had children “..who are going to want to go to college and you’re not going to be able to pay for it.”
Astonishingly, in some cases threats turned into actual violence. One respondent told Carrier about his experiences in the rap business of “people being physically intimidated” and “being hung out of windows.”
The strength of the threats were augmented by the uncertainty inherent in copyright law. One innovator said it was like a protection racket or the way politics work in corrupt countries where everything is OK until it’s not OK.
“You do what you want until one day you can’t and they come and your tail light’s broken.”
The full 63-page report, Copyright and Innovation: The Untold Story, is available here.
July 9, 2012
Agence France-Presse: July 6, 2012
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva passed its first resolution on Internet freedom on Thursday with a call for all states to support individuals’ rights online as much as offline.
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva passed its first resolution on Internet freedom on Thursday with a call for all states to support individuals’ rights online as much as offline.
Despite opposition on the issue from countries including China, Russia and India, countries promoting the resolution hailed the support of dozens of nations ahead of its adoption.
“This outcome is momentous for the Human Rights Council,” US ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe told reporters.
“It’s the first UN resolution that confirms that human rights in the Internet realm must be protected with the same commitment as in the real world.”
The text had the support of 85 co-sponsors, 30 of whom are members of the HRC, Donahoe added.
Of the states that supported the initiative, Tunisia’s ambassador Moncef Baati said it was particularly important for his country because of the role accredited to social networking websites in ousting president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
“The most important result of the Tunisian revolution is this right to freedom of expression…(this) is very important at the moment (in Tunisia) and it is for this reason that there is a strong commitment in Tunisia to consolidate Internet rights.
“Our link with all media networks during the revolution doubles the importance of this commitment to freedom of expression on the Internet which remains a major tool for economic development.”
Other countries that backed the resolution on the Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet included Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden and Turkey.