Legal Law

Now That USMCA Is In Impact… Can Congress Even Reform Part 230 With out Violating The Settlement?

It seems like every other day we see yet another proposal to dismantle, revoke, or otherwise undermine Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But doing so might actually create massive international problems. That’s because, as you may recall, despite some last minute attempts to remove it, the final USMCA retained language that suggests that any signatory to USMCA must have Section 230-like laws in place to protect intermediary liability. And, while it got surprisingly little attention, the USMCA went into effect last week. And thus, any change to Section 230 may raise at least some questions about whether or not they violate the agreement.

Now, there are limitations to this provision, but it’s interesting to see some people pulling their hair out that “big tech” has already blocked any possible changes to 230 via the USMCA:

But it’s hard to invest much energy in what the optimal Section 230 framework would be, since Big Tech has already solved this potential problem—in a way only they can love. Years ago, they succeeded in getting a Section 230-style provision into the reworked NAFTA, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). And practically everybody now incensed by the Section 230 legal immunity willingly voted to implement it in that trade agreement. That makes it much, much more difficult to change it in any way.

I find this framing fairly hilarious if you know anything about the history here. As detailed in the excellent book, Information Feudalism, it was actually the big legacy “intellectual property” industries, starting with the big pharmaceutical companies and followed quickly by Hollywood, that pushed to include things like copyright and patent rights in international trade agreements. As we’ve described, those industries have long focused on this form of policy laundering to get what they want.

Indeed, the DMCA itself wouldn’t exist without this process. As one of the architects of that law, Bruce Lehman, publicly admitted years ago in the 1990s, when Congress refused to create a DMCA-like law, he helped architect a plan to “run to Geneva” and get the 1996 WIPO Copyright Treaty signed, which “obligated” the US Congress to then create a DMCA-like law.

I have long found this whole process to be rather disgusting: leveraging backroom deals in trade agreements, that are negotiated out of sight of the public (or public interest organizations), with heavy input from industry, and then turning around and insisting that Congress must then abide by the restrictions in those agreements or face concerns that we’re not living up to our “international obligations” (the favorite phrase of those laundering policy in this manner).

It is all a big scam, of course, but since everyone else played that game in order to attack the internet, is it really any surprise that internet companies eventually sought the same sort of protections via trade agreements as well?

So, while the whole process of laundering policy this way is slimy and disgusting, there’s some level of ironic enjoyment in watching those now pushing for the undermining of Section 230 (which is often being driven by behind the scenes support from Hollywood), suddenly realizing that they now are facing the exact same game plan that they spent decades pulling against the internet.

Now That USMCA Is In Effect… Can Congress Even Reform Section 230 Without Violating The Agreement?

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