George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School

Trusted Notifier Program Defended Against Misleading Rhetoric

a laptop screenOne year ago, domain name registry Donuts, Inc. and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) entered into an agreement termed the Trusted Notifier Program in a joint effort to combat piracy. The voluntary initiative “introduced a new way to work towards mitigation of clear and pervasive cases of copyright infringement,” and according to Donuts’ one-year summary, has been a success for “rights owners, registrants and the public at large.”

While the program and similar voluntary agreements are not without their detractors, it’s important to separate good-faith criticism from misleading rhetoric. In an article posted this week, tech pioneer and Internet security expert Paul Vixie responds to a recent paper criticizing the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), trade associations, and standards organizations for implementing a “privately ordered online content regulation.”

The rebuttal deconstructs University of Idaho Law Professor Annmarie Bridy’s paper piece by piece, exposing many of the claims as unsubstantiated or misleading. Among other things, Mr. Vixie’s article provides the following evaluations:

  • No evidence is offered in support of the claim that the sole or primary purpose of voluntary efforts such as the Trusted Notifier Program has been to develop a “large-scale program of privately ordered online content regulation.”
  • Claims that “less sophisticated and economically powerful” ICANN stakeholders take a backseat to rights-holder organization influence have been demonstrated to be false by the existence of new generic top-level domain (gTLD) programs.
  • No evidence is offered in support of the claim that copyright owners “appear to be laying the groundwork for a broad program of DNS-based enforcement, with the long-term goal of implementing a UDRP-like procedure for claims of piracy and counterfeiting that are wholly unrelated to any bad-faith or confusing use of domain names.”
  • The unregulated nature of the Internet has acted as a “stay out of jail free” card for millions of criminals, and some redress and balance is both inevitable and necessary.

In conclusion, Vixie notes that the Trusted Notifier Program represents the engagement of Internet industry stakeholders with rights-holder communities to create efficient takedown-related activities, which is exactly what the Internet technical community told rights holders they should pursue instead of SOPA. The article advises that “asking interested parties not to cooperate on matters of their aligned interest will never be effective. Notice and takedown, at scale, without borders, requires mutual cooperation. And that’s what the Trusted Notifier Program is meant to effect.”

March 27, 2017, update: Bridy’s response to Vixie’s post can be read here.