Fellow Blogger Orin Kerr, in several comments on my posting yesterday, has asked some questions deserving a response:
If DHS is just making a request and has no legal authority to enforce its request, then of course Mozilla is free to ignore the request. At the same time, I wonder: If you were in charge of enforcing the criminal copyright laws, what would you do about the many sites that exist to facilitate copyright infringement? What steps do you think are fair and appropriate ones — if any?
A couple of thoughts about this. First, about being “free to ignore the request.” If, say, a representative of the Department of Health and Human Services wrote to the Dean of a Law School and said: “We hereby request that you not hire any African-Americans or Jews for your faculty — oh, and not to worry, you’re free to ignore our request,” we’d all be (appropriately) outraged. Heads would surely roll. A request from the government is not like a request from your neighbor or colleague; it carries additional weight. Especially, I think, when it comes from the Dep’t of Homeland Security. It should carry additional weight; as a citizen, I care a great deal about the security of my homeland, and if the government asks for my help in that task, I’m inclined to give it, or at least to consider it. I happen to regard that as a simple consequence of citizenship – not that I’ll do whatever the government asks me to do, but that I will consider it. The more frequently they ask for things they have no right to ask for, the less inclined I am to take their requests seriously.
The DHS has no more legal authority to request that Mozilla disable MafiaaFire than does the DHHS to ask my Dean not to hire blacks or Jews. None.
If I were in charge of enforcing the criminal copyright laws, what would I do? I would not violate the due process rights of website operators by asserting a right to “seize” anyone’s domain name whenever some copyright holder persuaded a DHS functionary that the site was infringing copyright. I would design a process to actually “adjudicate” these claims — maybe not (almost definitely not) full-blown federal litigation, but a procedure whereby the purported infringer has an opportunity to be heard before a true neutral, and where little things like “burden of proof” and the like are respected. ICANN’s UDRP proceedings at least serve as some sort of model — by no means the right one for this task, but a starting point for discussion.
Finally, if I were in charge of enforcing criminal copyright law, I would recognize that enforcing copyright law, while important, is less important, as it were, than the Internet. If we’re going to have situations in which government agents are permitted to screw up the basic and fundamental principles of Internet addressing, they should be restricted to situations in which the stakes are really, really high. Enforcing the private rights of music and entertainment companies is not one of those situations.