Brazil's groundbreaking digital rights bill that aims to protect citizens' privacy and uphold net neutrality rules, known as "Marco Civil", is about to get beefed up with a second round of legislation. Now, the Motion Picture Association (MPA), the Motion Picture Association of America's international lobby group, is trying to hijack it in order to crack down on piracy.
In a March submission to Brazil's minister of justice, the MPA requested that legislators alter language in the Marco Civil so that it "[contains] cases of exception to the general rule of net neutrality" in order to allow the Brazilian government to identify which sites are being used to download illegal content and then order internet service providers to block them.
According to Dennys Antonialli, executive director of Brazilian law and technology research group InternetLab, the MPA is trying to force copyright law into a legal framework meant to protect citizens' data and keep the internet an even playing field.
"Article 19 [of Marco Civil] specifically states that copyright violations shall be governed by specific legislation," Antonialli told me. "If MPA succeeds in carving out such an exception in the regulation, the matter will be regulated before there is any congressional discussion, which is very questionable."
The Brazilian government is gearing up to reform its Copyright Act, Antonialli said, a process that the MPA would sidestep by having copyright regulation placed in Marco Civil.
Marco Civil has been in the works for years, and was only implemented in 2014. During its earliest stages, it was hailed as a beacon for digital rights, albeit an imperfect one, because of its progressive approach to data privacy by digital rights groups like Access and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Tim Berners-Lee—the creator of the World Wide Web—also applauded its commitment to net neutrality at the signing ceremony in Brazil.
The original draft of Marco Civil was radical; it even proposed that Brazil force the companies operating within its borders to build local data centers and store information there, effectively isolating itself from the watchful eyes of the NSA. Since then, many of Marco Civil's strictest provisions have been rolled back, and Brazil has been beset on all sides by powerful lobbyists aiming to make the law more favourable to their interests.
"This is the same argument that has created a 'walled garden' Internet in China"
It's worth noting here that the MPA is the international arm of the Motion Picture Association of America, and that the the US recently implemented net neutrality rules that forbid internet service providers from blocking access to content. In Brazil, the MPA still has a chance to craft legislation that would be more favourable to it.
According to the MPA submission, Brazil's content removal powers under Marco Civil currently only cover data stored in the country. If a pirated movie were stored on servers in Sweden, for example, the content would likely be protected under Marco Civil. To remedy this, the MPA wants the Brazilian government to allow internet service providers to block users from accessing internationally hosted sites.
"In these cases the Brazilian courts only have only one option: to order service providers to implement technical measures to block Internet traffic when it has been established that services are illegal," the MPA submission states. "Without a clear provision for these techniques, in the midst of regulations, the current wording of the Marco Civil deprives courts of this possibility, leaving them unable to address such threats."
Jeremy Malcolm, senior global policy analyst for digital rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, believes that this kind of legislation could open the door to the kinds of severe internet censorship seen in countries like China.
"The MPA is arguing on the false premise that any content that violates national laws has to be blocked at the [internet service provider] level." Malcolm told me. "This is the same argument that has created a 'walled garden' Internet in China, and has seen entire platforms such as Facebook and Twitter blocked from time to time, including Pakistan and Turkey just to name two countries where this has happened."
If this proposal is successful, it wouldn't be the first time the entertainment industry managed to alter Marco Civil to its benefit. In 2012, Brazilian legislators changed language in the bill to exempt copyrighted material from protections against online censorship after facing pressure from the Motion Picture Association of America and other entertainment industry lobby groups.
Clearly, the MPA believes this wasn't enough. And if Brazilian legislators go along with the MPA now, it would mean that American interests hijacked some of the world's most progressive internet legislation to protect their copyright.