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Newest Twist in Pakistan YouTube Ban Case Comes From…California

BY Jessica McKenzie | Thursday, February 27 2014

Blocked! (Wikipedia)

On February 26, a U.S. federal appeals court ordered Google Inc to remove the film “Innocence of Muslims” from YouTube for copyright violations. The film sparked protests throughout the Middle East after it was released in September 2012, and demonstrations in parts of Pakistan turned violent. Pakistan's Prime Minister ordered YouTube to be blocked, ostensibly to prevent any further violence as a result of “Innocence of Muslims.” The Pakistani Internet rights organization Bytes For All has challenged the YouTube ban in court, and now that Google has been ordered to remove the film from YouTube, point out that there is now no reason to keep the site blocked.

In the most recent hearing of Bytes for All vs. The Federation of Pakistan, federal minister for Information Technology Anusha Rehman again failed to appear in court to deliver the government's position and the case was rescheduled for a hearing on March 11.

After the U.S. Court ruling, Shahzah Ahmed of Bytes for All told Agence France-Presse that "We think that now the government of Pakistan has been left with no excuse to continue blocking access to YouTube.”

Ahmeh added: "But the ban on YouTube has got more to do with the government's desires and efforts to impose censorship, content filtering and moral policing and we are fighting against them in court through a constitutional petition."

That, taken with the following statement from the Bytes for All blog, suggests that the court case will continue even if Pakistan lifts the YouTube ban:

The court wishes to hear the official stance of the government and its intentions with regard to the opening of YouTube and other Internet Freedoms in the country. It is important to note here that this petition is broad in nature, seeking the court’s protection on several digital rights to which lifting the ban on Youtube is only one part. The petition as filed in the court is accessible here.

The blanket block of YouTube in Pakistan seems excessive when one considers that the film was released more than two years ago, that the block prevents YouTube from being used in Pakistan for education, art, or innovation, and that Google worked out deals with other countries to selectively censor “Innocence of Muslims.”

On that last point, at least, the New Yorker shed some light in an article last August:

Google blocked the trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” in Indonesia, India, Jordan, Malaysia, Russia, Singapore, and Turkey after the governments of those countries requested removal of the video from YouTube. So the censorship that the site has accommodated, in various ways and to various extents, does not pose a dilemma for YouTube, per se. But it leaves possible security issues for any in-country staff, along with potential legal liabilities. Google would need exemption from country-specific laws in the window of time that exists between a potentially offensive video being uploaded and it being removed or restricted on the site. But, as Google stated in its letter to the Lahore High Court, it hasn’t been offered that protection in Pakistan. (The letter says that Google requires more than just an expression of goodwill from the Lahore High Court; it needs a “legislative change” in Pakistan that insures Intermediary Liability Protection for Web forums in general.)

In the United States, the federal appeals court decision has reignited debates about free speech. The Electronic Frontier Foundation lambasted the decision as an example of “copyright exceptionalism” and Index on Censorship weighed in with the observation that “we [in the West] seem far more comfortable with the removal of web content than we do with, say, the pulping of books, even though the intent is the same.”

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