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MegaUpload frames Universal dispute in context of SOPA

By | Published on Wednesday 14 December 2011


As confusion over who agreed what about the previously reported ‘Mega Song’ continues, the boss of the company behind the promotional track, MegaUpload, has framed his dispute with Universal Music in terms of the Stop Online Piracy Act, probably the most high profile of various anti-piracy proposals working their way through US Congress at the moment.

MegaUpload CEO David Robb’s comments are particularly timely as SOPA is due to be discussed by the judiciary committee of the House Of Representatives tomorrow.

As previously reported, MegaUpload is suing Universal Music over allegations it misused YouTube’s content takedown system last weekend in order to have an all-star promotional video, featuring a string of top American music stars bigging up the file-sharing service, removed from the video site. Operating under US copyright law, YouTube will take down videos from its servers if they have been posted without the permission of any relevant copyright owners.

But, MegaUpload says, Universal has no copyright claim over the ‘Mega Song’, and therefore misused the takedown process to have the video removed simply because it didn’t like the song’s message, ie numerous pop stars, some signed to Universal labels, bigging up a file-sharing platform which the big music and movie companies have accused of fuelling online piracy.

However, Universal says it acted on behalf of one of its artists who features in the video, who says she never gave permission for her contribution to be used in that way. There have since been reports other artists in the video issued their own takedown notices insisting they never agreed to appear in the promotional film, and we know for certain’s lawyers requested the video be taken offline.

SOPA would introduce various new measures into US law to help copyright owners combat online piracy, most controversially a fast-track injunctions system that would force ISPs to block access to sites proven to exist primarily to host infringing content or to help others infringe. Similar measures have been considered and in some cases introduced elsewhere in the world. In the UK a currently dormant portion of the Digital Economy Act proposed a similar system, plus the precedent set in this year’s Newzbin ruling suggest such injunctions are achievable under existing copyright law.

Web blocking measures have many opponents in the tech sector, the key argument against such injunctions being that big copyright owners might abuse any such web blocking system to force websites they don’t like offline. This, of course, would amount to censorship, and in the US would conflict with free speech rights in the First Amendment.

Obviously some sort of judicial process would be required to ascertain whether a site was infringing copyright, in theory preventing abuse of the system, though some fear what would happen in grey area cases, usually citing the fact Google inadvertently links to many unlicensed sources of content in search result lists, so could find itself targeted by web block claims.

Any abuse of the existing content takedown system that operates under America’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act adds fuel to those who claim that a web blocking system would be misused by the content industries. And that’s something MegaUpload CEO David Robb leapt on this week as his company accused Universal Music of misusing copyright law to force the (he would claim) legitimate promotional song off the internet.

Robb is quoted by Torrentfreak as saying: “Universal Music is currently lobbying lawmakers in Washington for legislation that would allow them to not only delete specific content from a website, but to delete entire websites from the internet. After this demonstration of the abuse of power by UMG, we are certain that such an instrument of internet censorship should not be put into the hands of corporations”.

While SOPA and similar proposals circulating in US political circles are generally backed by the big record, movie and TV companies, some big web firms have been busy opposing the proposed new laws. And joining the anti party is Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who has proposed the US Wiki community take the service offline for a short time in protest at the SOPA proposals, motivated by similar action taken by the Wikipedia community in Italy.

Wales wrote earlier this week: “A few months ago, the Italian Wikipedia community made a decision to blank all of Italian Wikipedia for a short period in order to protest a law which would infringe on their editorial independence. The Italian Parliament backed down immediately. As Wikipedians may or may not be aware, a much worse law going under the misleading title of Stop Online Piracy Act is working its way through Congress on a bit of a fast track … My own view is that a community strike was very powerful and successful in Italy and could be even more powerful in this case”.

Another campaign against SOPA is encouraging website owners to censor their own content by covering up key words in certain articles, and forcing readers to submit an email opposing the legislation in order to reveal the redacted words. Set up by an organisation called American Censorship, you can see that campaign in action on this Boing Boing article.

As we said, SOPA will be discussed more on Capitol Hill tomorrow. And where next for the MegaUpload v Universal dispute remains to be seen.