US ISP/copyright deal: a one-sided private law for corporations, without public interest

Last month, the major American ISPs and entertainment industry lobbyists struck a deal to limit Internet access for alleged copyright infringers. This deal, negotiated in secret with the help of New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo did not include any public interest groups or comment from the public. As a result, it's as one-sided and stilted as you'd imagine. Corynne McSherry from the Electronic Frontier Foundation analyzes the material that these cozy corporate negotiators left out, the stuff that public interest groups would have demanded. Here's an abbreviated list:

The burden should be on the content owners to establish infringement, not on the subscribers to disprove infringement. The Internet access providers will treat the content owners' notices of infringement as presumptively accurate–obligating subscribers to defend against the accusations, and in several places requiring subscribers to produce evidence "credibly demonstrating" their innocence. This burden-shift violates our traditional procedural due process norms and is based on the presumed reliability of infringement-detection systems that subscribers haven't vetted and to which they cannot object. (The content owners' systems will be reviewed by "impartial technical experts," but the experts' work will be confidential). Without subscribers being able to satisfy themselves that the notification systems are so reliable that they warrant a burden-shift, content owners should have to prove the merits of their complaints before internet access providers take any punitive action against subscribers.

Subscribers should be able to assert the full range of defenses to copyright infringement. A subscriber who protests an infringement notice may assert only six pre-defined defenses, even though there are many other possible defenses available in a copyright litigation. And even the six enumerated defenses are incomplete. For example, the "public domain" defense applies only if the work was created before 1923–even though works created after 1923 can enter the public domain in a variety of ways.

Content owners should be accountable if they submit incorrect infringement notices. A subscriber who successfully challenges an infringement notice gets a refund of the $35 review fee, but the MOU doesn't spell out any adverse consequences for the content owner that make the mistake – or even making repeated mistakes. Content owners should be on the hook if they overclaim copyright infringement.

Subscribers should have adequate time to prepare a defense. The MOU gives subscribers only 10 business days to challenge a notice or their challenge rights are waived (a subscriber might get an extra 10 business days "for substantial good cause"). This period isn't enough time for most subscribers to research and write a proper defense. Subscribers should get adequate time to defend themselves.

There should be adequate assurances that the reviewers are neutral. The MOU requires that reviewers must be lawyers and specifies that the CCI will train the reviews in "prevailing legal principles" of copyright law – an odd standard given the complexity of, and jurisdictional differences in, copyright law. We're especially interested in the identity of these lawyers, and why they are willing to review cases for less than $35 each (assuming the CCI keeps some of the $35 review fee for itself). Perhaps there will be a ready supply of lawyer-reviewers who are truly independent. Given the low financial incentives, another possibility is that the reviewers will be lawyers tied—financially or ideologically—to the content owner community. To ensure that the reviewers remain truly neutral, reviewer resumes should be made public, and checks-and-balances should be built into the reviewer selection process to ensure that the deck isn't stacked against subscribers from day 1.

This is American corporate private law, a topsy-turvy world where the burden of proof is on the accused, where companies get to tear inconvenient laws out of the statute book, and where the judges are trained by the plaintiffs and instructed in which parts of the law to pay attention to.

The "Graduated Response" Deal: What if Users Had Been At the Table?

(via Command Line)