Blockbuster online copyright battle intensifies as Hollywood puts the heat on ICANN

11 Mar 2015

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is getting pulled at from all angles, with the Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF) unimpressed.

In February the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) urged ICANN – the private organisation that oversees plenty of the internet’s naming and numbering system – to act against domains that essentially operate in the piracy realms.

Then last week the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) got in touch to request that domain name registries and registrars “investigate copyright abuse complaints and respond appropriately”.

“We need practical solutions to these issues, and believe that ICANN’s ability to provide them will be a critical test of its accountability to serve the public interest and to protect consumers and the rule of law online,” claimed Victoria Sheckler, SVP of RIAA.

Nothing new here, or is there?

All well and good, really. Lobby groups are forever pressuring organisations that oversee systems to acquiesce to their wants. However, it doesn’t seem to be as simple as that.

Now the United States Trade Representative (USTR) has gotten involved, claiming in its most recent report that domain registrars are required, under agreements with ICANN, to take action when they receive a notice about one of their domains facilitating illegal activity – noting that some respondents “refused requests to lock or suspend domain names”.

The request to lock or suspend domain names, though, is a red herring, EFF’s Jeremy Malcolm and Maira Sutton claim. And the knock-on effect of thinking that it is a contractual tool could lead to a situation where anyone can complain about anything online and get the domain pulled, entirely, with ICANN doing the deed.

“Domain registrars do not have an obligation to respond to a random third party’s complaints about the behaviour of a domain name user. Unless ordered by a court, registrars cannot be compelled to take down a website,” explain the duo.

“What the entertainment industry groups are doing is exaggerating the obligations that registrars of global top-level domains (gTLDs) have under their agreement with ICANN to investigate reports of illegal activity by domain owners, an expansion of responsibilities that is, to put it mildly, extremely controversial, and not reflected in current laws or norms.”

Copyright image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic