US Copyright Office Consultation Sparks Massive Opposition to ‘Upload Filter’ *TorrentFreak

At the end of 2020, Senator Thom Tillis published a draft discussion of the “Digital Copyright Act” (DCA), which aims to succeed the current DMCA.

The DCA hints at sweeping changes in the way online intermediaries approach the problem of piracy. Among other things, these services should ensure that pirated content remains offline after being deleted once.

This “takedown and staydown” approach relies on technical protection tools, which include download filters. This is a sensitive topic that already received quite a bit of backlash when the EU drafted its copyright directive.

In order to assess the different options and views, the Copyright Office has launched a series of consultations on the different technical tools that can help detect and remove pirated content from online platforms.

This effort includes a public consultation where various stakeholders and members of the public were invited to share their thoughts, which they did en masse.

Thousands of comments

In total, nearly 6,000 responses were received. These include overviews of major tech platforms that already use automated takedown tools, such as Google, Microsoft and Meta Platforms.

Google, for example, provides an overview of the various technical measures it uses to combat copyright infringement. This includes hash filtering on Google Drive, demotion of pirate sites in its search engine, and YouTube’s flagship content identification system.

Many of these solutions are voluntary and go beyond what is legally required. However, Google remains critical of mandatory download filtering requirements.

“While we believe that our efforts in this space have been effective and targeted, we remain concerned about the potential impact of proposals to condition safe harbors on the implementation of any specific technical measures, in particular automated filters that would be required to operationalize a ‘notice and hold regime’, writes Google.

Effective withdrawal technique?

The consultation also elicited many responses from rights holders and anti-piracy groups, including the Motion Picture Association. According to the MPA, technical measures can be very effective if deployed correctly.

“Although cross-industry technical measures have so far not been very successful, we believe that the large-scale adoption and implementation of technical measures can greatly help to solve the problem of copyright piracy. online author,” writes MPA.

The MPA recognizes that all technology carries the risk of abuse and overcorrection, but says that these erroneous and fraudulent takedown notices are often the result of human error and intentional misuse, not the technology.

Not everyone is convinced that automated withdrawal tools are the solution. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), for example, points out that automated filtering tools often lack important context that can make the difference between clear copyright infringement and fair use.

This concern is also largely supported by comments from the general public, which make up the majority of responses to the consultation. It’s impractical to provide a detailed summary of the thousands of responses, but from what we’ve seen the vast majority are clearly against automated filters.

Opposition to public upload filter

A cautionary comment comes from Katy Wood, who notes that automated filters are quite blunt and inefficient.

“The biggest hurdle is that any sort of automatic detection will completely lack nuance, which has been proven time and time again. The answer to copyright issues is not to strangle the internet, but to provide better legal protections to those who are robbed,” Wood writes.

The risk that automated upload filters could target legitimate content is repeated in hundreds of comments, including the examples below.

“Upload filters will only harm innocent users who use copyrighted content at a minimum under fair use, such as memes, jokes, and/or video/text reviews” , writes Aaron Sargent.

“Autofilters are a bad idea for copyrighted content because they don’t take context or identity into account,” BO says.

“No service should ever use automated filters because *they don’t work*. They remove vast amounts of 100% legal independent content, including expressive political speech that enjoys the highest level of First Amendment protection,” writes Nathanael Nerod.

“Filters are unable to take into account things like context, which forces them to regularly filter legal speech. This restricts one of our inalienable rights, the right to freedom of speech and expression” , adds Mary Weien.

Personal stories

There are also comments from people who share their personal experiences. Bruce Ryan, for example, who is approaching his fifties. He converted Super 8 films from his youth recorded by his father, now 92 years old.

The videos have been uploaded to YouTube but have not been publicly listed. However, that didn’t stop them from being flagged by the Content ID system.

“In a scene with a chaotic baseball game in my childhood, my dad narrated it over banjo background music. The filter automatically scanned this one-minute clip of a 50-plus-year-old instrument and declared that my father’s use of it in his home video was copyright infringement,” Ryan wrote.

“YouTube gave me the ability to remove *all* the audio from the clip I uploaded, which would also have removed my dad’s narration. Losing my dad’s voice would have severely diminished the joy of those old videos. personal,” he added.

Artists don’t want filters

For the sake of balance, we also sought submissions from individual artists. While there are larger groups advocating for more automated protection, the individual comments we found were also critical of download filters.

Several creators claim that tighter download controls will mainly benefit large companies, but not so much individual artists.

Cecilia Ross, who describes herself as a private artist, is among those warning that big companies have more control over what is posted online.

“From what I’ve seen, most technical measures disadvantage private content creators and rights holders. Any company can claim something as their own and it is difficult for private artists to protect their work from predatory companies,” notes Ross.

Another artist, Melissa Fitzgerald, points out that piracy is a terrible thing. However, in combating it, fair use should not be overlooked.

“The [filtering] the systems are not nuanced enough to recognize fair use. If measure[s] are enacted to further control copyright on the Internet, this will only benefit the already wealthy and powerful.

“The other outcome is that fair use will be crushed and the internet will be taken over by a few companies that are already becoming monopolies. The public domain must remain in public hands, intellectual property must be released to the world and remixed,” adds Fitzgerald.

Many other artists and creators share the same vision. The general consensus, based on the feedback we’ve seen, is that copyright protection is a good idea, but not through automated systems that primarily benefit large corporations.

Although we haven’t read the 6,000 comments in detail, the general impression we have is that the general public does not consider automatic download filters to be a good idea. But now that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

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