The government will soon have to consider an amendment that would block Internet users’ access to foreign Web sites that contain unauthorized content or infringements on the intellectual property of copyright holders. However, netizens, experts and lawmakers are concerned that the legislation might threaten Internet freedom and Internet-led innovation.
On Tuesday last week, the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Intellectual Property Office (IPO) announced it was proposing an amendment to the Copyright Act (著作權法) that would allow the government to demand that local Internet service providers (ISPs) help block copyright infringement from content on foreign Web sites.
According to IPO Director-General Wang Mei-hua (王美花), the legislation would give the government the power to require local ISPs to blacklist Web sites deemed undesirable by identifying their Internet protocol addresses. It would also give the government the authority to request that ISPs disable access to suspicious sites through a technology known as domain name service blocking, essentially rendering the sites unusable.
The amendment, which the IPO plans to send to the legislature for review in the next session and which could come into effect next year if it is approved, comes amid continued complaints from copyright holders that movies and music are available for download through file transfer protocol, peer-to-peer methods or BitTorrent file-sharing services, before they are even officially released in Taiwan.
However, the IPO’s plan has raised concern among the public that it would give the government the power to control and censor the Web. Netizens have also questioned why the government has not tackled online piracy via judicial cooperation with foreign governments, higher penalties for copyright infringement or easier legal procedures for seeking compensation, but instead has resorted to the lazy option of regulating the Internet for domestic users.
On Friday, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) said she was worried about the IPO’s move, fearing that giving the government the authority to block access to specific sites would “open a Pandora’s box” of increased government intervention on the Internet. She likened the plan to the establishment of something very similar to China’s abandoned Internet filtering “Green Dam” project in Taiwan, saying that the government must invite Web companies and Internet users to discuss the issue first, before sending the draft amendment to the legislature.
Although the notion to help curb online piracy and protect intellectual property rights is well-intended, the amendment to the Copyright Act must account for the public’s concern about using political power to restrain Internet-based communications and innovation. The IPO has said that there are several countries mulling controls on the Internet to safeguard the rights of copyright holders and content users. Equally, it must tell the public about any potential consequences of the proposed amendment and how it would affect the openness of the Internet and the rights of users.
At this point, it is anyone’s guess how exactly the amendment will impact online development in Taiwan. However, what is sure is that it will expand the power of the government to regulate the Internet and open the door for the government to further censor the Web, either because of pressure from copyright holders or because it chooses to do so. This issue needs to be addressed with extreme caution and the passage of legislation should not be rushed.