Posts tagged AntiPiracy
What if every time you shared an illegally downloaded file a copyright alert went off and notified your Internet service provider? Well, that day is pretty much here.
It’s the new “six strikes” plan against alleged pirates, formally known as the Copyright Alert System. It’s been slow to get off the ground, having first been scheduled for launch last July, and then again last November. It may amount to little more than a wrist slap for copyright violators. But it is exactly what the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) and five major ISPS – Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, Cablevision, and Time Warner Cable – are apparently finally launching this week to try to scare you out of sharing pirated material.
The plan, backed by ISPs and Hollywood studios, has been a running joke in some quarters due to the internal tensions of its backing coalition and the general toothlessness of its sanctions. The CCI itself insists its system is intended to educate consumers, not punish them. Online chatter about this new system depicts it as less “big brother” and more as a big bother.
But we should care about Six Strikes, because it’s likely to slow down the Web for some, subject others to burdens such as “mandatory” online educational courses, and widely violate the privacy of Web users – whether they’re really pirating movies and music or not.
Bark Or Bite?
Back in November, leaked documents reported by TorrentFreak revealed that Verizon would monitor BitTorrent users and respond to alleged copyright violators in a staged fashion, starting with two email warnings. Should users continue their alleged infringing activity, Verizon will push out third and fourth warnings in the form of intrusive popups that force users to confirm receipt. If that doesn’t do the trick, the ISP would slow down Internet connections to roughly dialup speed for 14 days.
But that’s just Verizon – every ISP will be free to tailor restrictions. Last October, TorrentFreak likewise reported that AT&T will block users until they complete a copyright course, and in November relayed that Time Warner will temporarily disrupt service.
Here’s the service in action, in a soothing video produced by the CCI:
What To Expect
Major ISPs actively monitoring and “trolling” our usage remains a major privacy issue, even if so far the modus operandi isn’t as nefarious as it might sound. The simple fact that third-party outfits can identify the IP address of someone sharing or distributing copyrighted material and then report them to the ISPs is likely to alarm many users once these alerts start going out.
The new system doesn’t force ISPs to shut off Web service to repeat offenders, but you can probably count on ISPs sharing the identities of alleged violators with copyright owners to pursue legal action. In the above video, the CCI says it won’t give out customer information, but if the backers of the program – many of them the creators themselves – lean hard enough, ISPs will probably cave.
As it stands now, Six Strikes won’t stop piracy. On the one hand, it’s just too easy to get around – widely available VPNs, proxies and similar measures all bypass the kind of monitoring that’s central to the system. Committed users can also just ignore the notifications, since there are apparently no sanctions past the sixth warning at ISPs like Verizon.
Still, this is interference, big time, from ISPs of a sort that Americans haven’t previously experienced. Even in attenuated form, Six Strikes could have unexpected consequences, such as killing public Wi-Fi. (Though the CCI denies that coffeehouse hotspots are in any danger.) And it’s not at all unreasonable to think that the sanctions could get more Draconian, given Hollywood’s well-known history of pushing for ever-stronger restrictions once the camel’s nose is under the tent.
So mind your bits and torrents, folks. This could get nasty.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
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Frustrated and bitter that laws like SOPA and PIPA have yet to get pushed through Congress without those pesky constituents objecting to turning the U.S. government into muscle for entertainment industry, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is taking out its anger on Google. The music industry lobbying group is accusing the search engine giant of failing to effectively demote search results that lead people to those nasty little download sites.
In a blog post on the RIAA site yesterday, Steven M. Marks, EVP & General Counsel, RIAA made it clear that the music copyright association thinks that Google, despite making some headway, remains a day late and a dollar short.
“We recognize and appreciate that Google has undertaken some positive steps to address links to illegal music on its network,” said Steven M. Marks, the RIAA’s executive vice president and general counsel. “Unfortunately, our initial analysis concludes that so far Google’s pledge six months ago to demote pirate sites remains unfulfilled. Searches for popular music continue to yield results that emphasize illegal sites at the expense of legitimate services, which are often relegated to later pages. And Google’s auto-complete function continues to lead users to many of those same illicit sites.”
(This isn’t the first time: see also RIAA Slams Google’s Anti-Piracy Efforts, Demands Even More Unreasonable Measures.)
Testing The Claims
I wanted to see if the RIAA might be overstating its concerns, something that they’ve been known to do before. So I performed a little one-man experiment, using the song “Some Nights” by Fun. as the guinea pig. Your mileage may vary, of course, but my quick-and-dirty test revealed that the RIAA may have some valid claims.
A search for “Fun. album” returned a first, second, and third page of results that were absent of any results that would seem to contain illegal downloads, with the bottom of the third page containing three DMCA takedown notices that point to the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s ChillingEffects.org for more information.
But down in the “Searches related to” section of all of the results pages, “fun. some nights download” was among the listings, and a click-through pulled in the plenty of links to aggregate MP3 download sites, mixed with a few legitimate sites, like iTunes (#3), Amazon (#7) and the official video on YouTube (#8).
As for the RIAA’s claim that Google’s AutoComplete will suggest search terms that could lead users to sites containing unlicensed copies of songs, I found this was indeed true. By the time I typed “fun. some”, Google had filled in four results:
fun. some nights
fun. some nights lyrics
fun. some nights meaning
fun. some nights mp3
On a whim, I turned on SafeSearch to see if that would make a difference. Results did differ on some search results, such as “fun. some nights download”, where legitimate sites (like the Wikipedia entry for the album) were moved up slightly on the first page of results, but the sketchy download sites were still in full-glory display.
I should also note that the RIAA did not take Microsoft’s Bing service to task, even thought the same experiment on Bing yielded very similar results, even in the auto-complete results. Type in “fun. some” on the Bing home page and you get these helpful suggestions:
fun. some nights lyrics
fun. some nights
fun. some nights meaning
fun. some nights torrent
fun. some nights video
fun. some nights album download
fun. some nights mp3
fun. some nights review
Search Engines As Police?
Based on these (admittedly quick) search tests, it seems like the RIAA has a point, and Google is failing to block apparent pirate sites on its search results, and its demotion policy announced in August 2012 isn’t really working all that well, either.
But let’s be clear: Google has said all along it wasn’t going to block site results from any site unless it receives a specific copyright removal request from the rights owner.
“Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law. So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won’t be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner,” senior vice president of engineering Amit Singhal wrote back in August.
At the time, what Google said it would do was add a new signal to how it ranks search results.
“Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results,” Singhal stated.
The RIAA is contending in its statement this week that Google has failed to live up to that promise.
One has to wonder, though, if trying to keep up with the sheer number of sites that provide access to unlicensed media content is comparable to spitting on a forest fire. If the signal for page ranking depends in some way on number of takedown attempts, perhaps the RIAA and other rights holders are not sending enough signals. Or maybe these sites know who to game other ranking signals to boost their status on Google and Bing search results.
It is very easy to point fingers at Google and Bing and accuse them of not doing enough to keep people away from pirated media. If you forget, of course, that this not their job.
Complaining about the auto-completing results would seem to be a more valid concern, until you remember that there could be legitimate results for “download X.”
The RIAA wants to protect the rights of its artists and producers, a valid concern. But it is not clear at all that Google, Microsoft and the other search engines should be relied upon as key allies in the recording industry’s ongoing quest to stomp piracy. Search engines’ missions are to provide data, not analyze that data for legality.
Despite what they’re asking for here, I suspect even the most vehement anti-piracy activists would not care for some of the implications of a world where search engines were to undertake that goal.
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It’s almost here. The “6 strikes” anti-piracy scheme crafted by Hollywood and U.S. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is due to be implemented in the next few weeks. As the program’s long-delayed arrival nears, we’re starting to get a glimpse at how it’s actually going to work. And it’s not pretty.
Even if you’ve never downloaded copyrighted content in your life, the policy may put a damper on your Web surfing at the local cafe.
Verizon hasn’t formally announced its “six strikes” plans yet, but TorrentFreak got its hands on leaked documents that lay everything out in plain English.
First off, for those who aren’t familiar with “six strikes”, the major ISPs in the U.S. have agreed to start issuing warnings to customers who use their services to pirate content over peer-to-peer networks. Details have been sparse, but a newly formed organization called the Center For Copyright Information (CCI) will send emails, voicemails and Web-based messages to alleged pirates. After six warnings, their ISP will take still-undefined punitive actions, which could include a slowing of network speeds (but never a total loss of service).
How Verizon Will Warn Pirates
Verizon’s alert system will start with an email and automated voicemail. After continued infringement, it will redirect your browser to a Web page containing another alert and an educational video about piracy. If that doesn’t stop you from downloading Game of Thrones episodes and Skrillex albums, you’ll get another warning and Verizon will temporarily slow down your Internet connection. If you do it again, it will actually leave you alone. The goal is apparently to spook enough people to put some kind of a noticeable dent in overall copyright infringement. With all the major ISPs on board, they’ll probably succeed in doing so.
One detail about Verizon’s policy that should raise eyebrows is the fact that it will apply to business customers. If people pirate content using the free Wi-Fi at the cafe down the street, the owner may wind up getting copyright alerts and then see its network speed reduced. Even if some guy walks into the cafe with BitTorrent running in the background on his laptop and continues downloading files he queued up from home, the business and its other patrons could wind up getting penalized for it.
Even if it’s only temporary, that could wind up hurting the business in what would effectively amount to a type of collective punishment for copyright infringement. For some remote workers, the interruption in service could be enough to change their cafe preference. For other types of public Wi-Fi, the whole thing could just lead to a generally crappier experience for people.
It remains to be seen how Time Warner, Comcast and other big Internet providers will approach this, but the ISPs will presumably try to keep their policies largely similar since otherwise customers could jump from one provider to another in search of a piracy-friendly experience.
For now, the “six strikes” scheme appears to be effectively toothless – in the long run. It doesn’t affect the Internet in a deep and fundamental way, as SOPA threatened to do.
But it could still cause unforeseen problems by screwing with public Wi-Fi networks.
Lead photo by mviramontes.
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muso.com's Anti-piracy Market Revolution Continues for Leading Music Artists …
Online anti-piracy platform muso.com today announced a world-first with the launch of 'muso.com SEO', a new solution allowing rights-holders to automatically search and remove illegally infringing Google search engine results for their content with …
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Even as antipiracy forces step up their war on copyright violations, the economic impact of software and media piracy remain questionable. Without credible estimates of the true scope of piracy, efforts to thwart file sharing will lack credibility as well.
File sharing represents a huge proprotion of traffic online, and much of that activity is devoted to unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, including application software, music, and movies. But how much economic impact does it really have?
Don’t ask the antipiracy advocates. The intellectual property industry likes to trumpet large numbers representing the losses incurred by file sharing. In May, the Business Software Alliance (BSA), a U.S.-based software trade organization, reported that “software piracy cost the industry a record $63.4 billion globally in 2011 with emerging economies listed as the main culprits.”
That’s a sizeable sum, but it doesn’t carry any weight.
The method behind such assessments goes like this: First, estimate the average amount of software installed on PCs within a given country, using data from surveys and the like. Next, subtract the amount of software known to have been sold in that country. The difference is the rate of piracy. Multiply that figure by the revenue software companies would get if the software were sold at its commercial value, and you get a figure like $63.4 billion.
There are multiple problems with this line of reasoning:
• It uses surveys to determine the amount and types of software installed on PCs. Doing this with any statistical significance requires a sample size far larger than researchers tend to muster.
• It supposes that, if piracy were not an option, the same software would be purchased and installed. But people indiscriminately grab free stuff they don’t really want or need simply because it’s fun or satisfying, whereas they deliberate over purchases.
• It assumes that consumers pay the same commercial rates for the software whether they reside in a developing nation or a Western country. But, in fact, prices in the U.S. and Europe are substantially higher than those in emerging markets.
“Almost every year BSA’s total ‘commercial value’ estimate grows, generating headlines about piracy and fostering wrongheaded policies like those we saw in SOPA and PIPA,” wrote Josh Mendelsohn in a blog post for Hattery Labs, a firm that specializes in marketing, branding, and product and business development. ”What’s missing from this conversation is unbiased, statistically sound research that shows the true nature of online piracy.”
No one is denying that software piracy is a concern, not even critics of the BSA. The same is true for media piracy, which generates similarly inflated estimates of lost revenue by organizations like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) or the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). But the scope of the problem has not been examined honestly. Until antipiracy forces undertake research designed to discover the true impact of file sharing, antipiracy forces will look like their aim is scare lawmakers into enacting protectionist laws rather than solve real problems.
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It is not a Mexican counterpart of SOPA, as we’ve covered here previously, but the piece of legislation known worldwide as the “Döring bill” or Ley Döring remains as much a hot topic throughout Latin America as SOPA was in the U.S. It is an anti-piracy bill, though rather than blocking access to websites at the ISP level, it would have ISPs shut off Web access from users found to be repeatedly trafficking in illicit, copyrighted material.
The largely unpopular bill re-entered the news this past Friday in Mexico City, where a public discussion on the bill and on anti-piracy legislation worldwide – the very type of discussion this issue has demanded – ended with the principal invited guest, Sen. Federico Döring Casar, not showing up.
As it happened, according to El Economista, the event ended up being something of a rally against anti-piracy legislation of all forms. The president of the Mexican Internet Association, for example, stated the Döring bill put undue obligations on the digital publishing industry to police its own readers, arguing that (translating from Spanish) “we should not criminalize the publishers to protect the authors.”
Sen. Döring had spoken out against SOPA prior to his introduction of the bill (which is still under consideration), so many have characterized the senator has somewhat hypocritical. As he explains it, anti-piracy legislation is necessary, but not in a form that endangers a publisher’s right to free expression. From his vantage point, his bill would not shut off the faucet when illicit material is discovered to spew out of it. Rather, it would tap users on the shoulder and remind them not to drink from that faucet – and then take them away from the sink once they’ve shown that they’re not listening.
As Mónica Fonseca from Colombia’s NTN24 asked me this morning for an interview slated to appear on her “C.S.T.” program this week, how do we get to a perfect balance between protecting copyright and enabling the freedom of individuals to post what they want, where they wish?
I had to answer her, when and if we do reach a balancing point, it won’t look like the right for individuals to post whatever they want. For decades, copyright law protected artists from having their works presented to a broad audience by some unaffiliated individual looking to make a buck. While in retrospect, it seems silly to imagine someone pitching a tent in his backyard, putting on a couple of LPs, and charging a thousand people 10 bucks admission to hear them, this was a legitimate fear once the fidelity of recorded works reached such a high level, and not everyone had access to such quality.
The Internet has turned everything upside down. It effectively gives every individual the power of a broadcaster. I took a gamble that Mónica would agree with me that I would not have the right to rebroadcast an episode of Project Runway Latin America (the other show she’s known for) with someone else’s advertising attached. The Web might give me the means, but means and rights are two different things. (If you search YouTube for videos of PRLA, you’ll find the producer has issued takedown notices on several.)
The balance she’s hoping for, I argued, can only be achieved if the two important factors in this argument (let’s leave out the pirates altogether) agreed to meet each other halfway. First, content creators and the lawmakers who act in their interests must resolve to stop being so skeptical about the motives of everyday individuals. They just want the means to use the media they download fairly, and technology is often so convoluted that they must resort to unusual means to accomplish it – and sometimes, yes, that does mean copying discs.
But individuals must learn not to be so hypocritical themselves. We talk a lot about how a third-party monitoring system, like the one the Döring law proposes, could conceivably be used to infringe upon individual liberties, and would be an invasion of individuals’ rights to anonymity. We say this while we’re updating our status on Facebook, we’re broadcasting our GPS location to “the community,” we’re telling the world when we’ve left home and when we’ve come home from work, and we’re sharing every last thought in 140 characters or less. Obviously there are some third parties we’re willing to trust without a second thought; we’re just skeptical of those that actively advertise themselves as monitors of Web behavior. We’re more skeptical of systems that are at least being honest than of the thousands or more that are inherently dishonest.
Maybe most importantly of all, though, is that we need to show up and have this discussion. Our absence does far more damage than our participation ever could.
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In 1959 (as I recall), my mother – an acclaimed professional artist – had entered a handful of her oil paintings into an annual art show. Someone attending the show noted that one particular work – the face of a peasant boy – strongly resembled a photograph that had appeared in Life magazine. Well, there was no coincidence about it: Mom had studied precisely that face, and her work was based on that photograph. (The card tacked to the wall actually said so, if anyone had bothered to read it.)
So it was that the local newspaper “exposed” my mother as a fraud, a counterfeiter. It ran a story with the painting next to the Life magazine photograph itself. Thus began a lifelong dialog that became one of the threads of my life: a case study in fair use that fueled endless debates in the Socratic method between Mom and her art students for the next four decades. It began with the delicious irony of the newspaper having reprinted the Life photograph without Time-Life’s permission, and embraced the lovely fact Mom eventually sold the painting for many times the original price.
Granted, I think of Mom at least as much today as when she was alive. But I thought of those long, late-night debates about the extent of fair use yesterday upon coming across the curious case of one Federico Döring Casar. If you follow the news in Mexico, you know Senator Döring is the fellow who proposed legislation that would create a new “notification system” for Internet users suspected of trafficking in pirated content. It would act as a warning that they’re liable to have their wages garnished for up to ten years, depending on the extent of the offense; and it would most likely directly involve ISPs who would provide a new government authority with the identities of potential suspects.
Whose polar bear is this?
Döring is not one of these Luddites afraid of any typewriter that has a TV screen attached; he’s relatively active with social media, including regular posts to Twitter (@senadoring). It’s there where one of his readers, a lady named Ophelia Pastrana (@mpastrana) – whose profile describes her as “anti-print” – noticed something familiar about Döring’s background wallpaper. It’s a beautiful shot of a polar bear stretched out on a rocky, snowy terrain enjoying the sunset, with a face not unlike the Senator’s own. It’s something my mother would likely have considered painting sometime. But indeed, it would appear to be a screen grab directly from the Mangelsen stock photo agency, whose Web page clearly licenses the photo for royalties.
And so it was that Sen. Döring was called out as a fraud, a counterfeiter. Never mind for a moment the delicious irony that the act of demonstrating Döring’s most grievous fault effectively copies the exact same photograph. Supposedly such demonstrations in the act of journalism constitute “fair use.”
In other words, it’s all right for a journalist to do it, but not for a senator. Evidently fairness may differ depending on whom you’re being fair to.
Who needs one big brother when a billion little ones will do?
This is the very type of topic my mother relished. In her ingenious, professorial style, which often resembled Justice John Marshall as rendered by Buffy Sainte-Marie, she’d compel her students to adopt one position (“Every photograph qualifies as art, so copying it without permission is forgery”) and then throw a live grenade at them that challenged their newfound position. At such a moment, like Perry Mason closing an argument, she’d extract from behind a cabinet some hidden photo of a painting by Andy Warhol (whom she loathed, by the way), one produced by way of the manipulation of copyrighted photos, and watch her students backtrack (“Oh, that’s different, Andy Warhol’s famous”).
Sen. Döring has suggested that the act of policing each other, of ensuring that we don’t step on each other’s intellectual property rights, can be crowdsourced. Since the Internet is essentially a cooperative, a kind of digital society, then infringement is something we can all make efforts to help each other avoid. Never mind for a moment the eerie resemblance to Chinese families helping each other to refrain from bearing siblings. The suggestion Döring makes is that we all know infringement when we see it.
Do we? A Spain-based blog post (English-language Google translation here) called Döring out for being two-faced, for having the gall to promote a system of registering intellectual property violations, and for having spoken out against the SOPA bill in the U.S., while at the same time using a copyrighted polar bear as his wallpaper. Evidently the mark of a career politician.
In an adjacent paragraph, the blogger suggests that a polar bear belongs to everyone. Exactly what right did the photographer have to claim the bear’s repose as his own? Shouldn’t the bear have a say in this? And elsewhere, the same post states (translating from Spanish), “copying is the most common process in the digital environment,” something which folks do every day, perhaps inadvertently. Or put another way, it’s fair for a blogger to do it, and maybe for a bear, but not a senator.
Theft is theft (void where prohibited)
At one level, the SOPA debate brought thousands, and perhaps millions, of people together to collectively agree on something – perhaps “Censorship Bad,” perhaps something greater. But the true problem we face as a people and as a society, as we continue to take what truly are the first steps in the age of digital communication, is that we don’t know what we’re talking about. It’s impossible to legislate a principle that we have not yet defined in the public mind. To a member of the RIAA, it may seem clear-cut enough: You steal a movie, that’s piracy. But a principle is deeper than a campaign slogan; it’s something definitive that applies to the future as much as to the present.
“Fair use” is a concept we believe to be well-defined in U.S. law. There are reasons we need to copy things – for example, in research, in journalism, in exercising our own freedom of expression by borrowing an idea, in art. Fair use would say it’s okay to slap a picture of a polar bear on your notebook. It would be wrong to broadcast that picture without proper attribution to the photographer.
But Twitter turns that distinction entirely upside down. Every little thing you do is a broadcast; every polar bear you slap on your cover is a little act of infringement. While it seems altruistic enough that we should help each other to not step on one another’s toes, where do we stop? Most of the tweets that will be generated as a result of this article are copies of each other. The Internet is, by its very nature, a giant replication factory. While it may have been easy for each of us to take a side for or against SOPA, Viacom CEO Phillipe Dauman was right in telling AllThingsD’s Peter Kafka yesterday that the polarization created through the debate may be blinding us to the underlying issue of what kind of copying is fair and what kind wrong.
Here, you can read about what Dauman told Kafka on stage in this blog post. It’s been conveniently copied, in its entirety, without permission, from something first published by Mashable.
Scott M. Fulton, III is the author of this document and is fully responsible for his content. If you copy it without permission, you deserve to have the minimum wage deducted from your earnings. Unless you’re a blogger, in which case, you might not be making that much from your blog anyway.
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Interest in news about last week’s protest against anti-piracy legislation was highest among people under the age of 30, according to the latest weekly News Interest Index survey. The survey was conducted Jan. 19-22 among 1,002 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
While the Stop Online Piracy Act that was pending before the House and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act, are on indefinite hold after last week’s protests, the Pew poll shows little interest in the protests outside of those under 30. The Pew poll may have politicians rethinking their decision to take political cover in the immediate aftermath of the protest, which included a day-long shutdown of Wikipedia, as people under 30 traditionally have low voter turnout rates.
An aide to a House member that supports SOPA said it was too soon to tell how lawmakers would work to move anti-piracy legislation. The aide, who asked that he and his boss not be identified, had not seen the Pew report, which was released Tuesday.
“But I think, like anything else, if there’s not strong constituent opposition, it makes it easier for us to move forward on issues like this,” he said.
The poll, it should be noted, covers news interest for the four days following Wednesday’s protest, meaning interest may have been conceivably higher amongst all age groups on Jan. 18, the day news coverage was most exhaustive. The poll also asks respondents to rank the story they were most interested in, so lower ratings in older age groups does not necessarily mean people over 30 have no interest in anti-piracy legislation.
The 23% interest rate in Web protest stories for people between the ages of 18 and 29 was higher than interest in any other age group covered by the story, as well as interest by people between 18 and 29 in the presidential election (21%) and the Italian cruise ship accident (16%).
Across all age groups, only 7% of respondents listed the Web protest as the story they were most interested in for the four-day period. Overall, 26% of respondents said they were most interested in news about the cruise ship accident, followed by news about the elections (23%) and the economy (10%).
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The effective success of grass-roots efforts to stall anti-piracy legislation in the U.S. Congress now has people whose lives and careers are impacted by piracy worried about their futures. With Congress unable to launch a successful dialog about proper methods to combat piracy; the entertainment industry having tried out for, and landed, the role of the villain; and with “Anonymous” launching somewhat successful attacks against U.S., Polish, and other governments’ Web sites in defense of the “right to piracy,” content creators appear worried that any effort to resume a positive dialog might make them targets of public criticism.
At the moment, it’s hard to have been anti-SOPA and yet appear proactive against piracy.
Making some of the first public statements in favor of restarting a pro-active dialog are individuals speaking out on behalf of artists and musicians, including one group whose members were already instrumental in the anti-SOPA protests last Wednesday.
The American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) is continuing to advance this statement, released last week, concerning Web sites that led Wednesday’s protest: “They are taking a unilateral action to make their content unavailable. However, under current law, A2IM members whose copyrights are infringed upon cannot take similar action. Our independent labels and their artists have no practical way of taking down illegal links to their music from rogue foreign Web sites accessed via U.S. search engines.
“The media has portrayed the issue as that of two giant industries (movies/music and technology) in conflict, as though this was a battle solely between very rich businesses,” the A2IM statement goes on. “In fact, our members are small- and medium-sized independent businesses that invest in the creation of music and whose very existence is being threatened by the availability of illegal content on line. We look forward to solution-oriented discussions among all parties.”
The public stance of the Association did not stop individual A2IM members such as indie group Wye Oak from signing a letter of opposition to SOPA/PIPA last week.
A2IM’s statement echoed the sentiments of Brian Philips, CEO of Viacom-owned cable music channel CMT. Over the weekend, Philips’ pro-SOPA/PIPA sentiments appeared in The Tennessean – too late, of course, to keep PIPA from being indefinitely tabled.
“Opponents of this legislation… are raising phantom issues, through vague threats of censorship and other unspecified dangers,” Philips wrote. “Unfortunately, their arguments are based more in fear than in truth. No domestic Web sites would be shut down by this legislation. Plain and simple: The target is overseas piracy Web sites. Creative endeavors are not alone as targets of piracy.”
A fate worse than SOPA
An examination of the Justice Dept.’s indictment of the proprietors of cyberlocker site Megaupload led the CTO of Sydney, Australia-based Web advertising firm Pinion to wonder whether squashing the SOPA bill could spark the creation of a worse alternative that could do even more damage than had been feared. David Banham was inspired by having used Megaupload to distribute files to clients, only to find the site taken down last week.
It is easy to generalize, in the vein of SOPA, that all these smart people working in tech should just make sure that no-one uploads copyrighted material to their services. It’s easy right? If someone uploads a Hollywood movie just delete it! In reality, though, every time any file was uploaded, an extensive search would need to be conducted to determine whether, where, how, and by whom it was copyrighted. The rights holder would then need to be contacted to determine whether or not the use was permitted. In the case of transformative or derivative works, the decision would have to be made (and the associated risk assumed!) by the service.
That burden can never be placed on those shoulders. It would be crippling for Google. It would be completely impossible for any startup out there and would stifle a massive amount of innovation.
SOPA merely (merely!) required that every link be checked against a blacklist provided by the US Government. If the allegations in this indictment are allowed to stand, industry will not only have to enforce that blacklist, but create and curate it.
“Knowledge shall be increased”
Last Friday, the CEO of cable arts channel Ovation, Charles Segars, issued an outright pro-SOPA statement that echoed the expressed sentiment of Vice President Biden back before the entire SOPA debate began. “They’re calling the SOPA bill ‘censorship’ and an infringement of our First Amendment rights. And the entertainment industry is painted as ‘greedy’ for supporting this legislation,” Segars wrote.
“But I wonder… What would happen if all the movie theaters, cable and broadcast channels, book stores and radio stations did the same thing – went completely dark, off the air, closed their doors? Would you miss Wikipedia more than, say, being able to watch ‘American Idol’ or go to AMC theaters and see the latest movie in 3D? Would it take a total shutdown to make the point that entertainment content is something of value and therefore needs protecting?”
Despite Segars’ and Ovation’s public stance, some of the artists participating in Ovation’s own forum ended up supporting the protests instead. “One thing I don’t want to see happen is the old farts in Congress deciding what sites and material are appropriate!” wrote Mark Sean Orr, in response to another member’s request for clarity as to where they should stand as artists. “The Internet is not a corporation or government agency and should never be. What it is, is a network of citizens world-wide sharing and connecting through this awesome new technology.”
That led another member, named Cheryl, to share her view that precisely because the Web is beyond the control of any one government, some government somewhere will see that as a challenge and try to control it anyway. “The Internet and the World Wide Web are not owned by anyone. How do you control something that is a cloud?” she wrote. “How do you tax and fee something if the players involved refuse to participate or if your own dependence can be hacked?”
Perhaps inspired, perhaps depressed, and perhaps both by the prospect of blacklists and whitelists appearing on the Internet in one form or another eventually, another Ovation member closed the thread by citing the Book of Daniel, Chapter 12: “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book… But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.”
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Just as SOPA opponents in the United States prepare for round two in their battle against far-reaching anti-piracy legislation, it appears that their Spanish counterparts just lost theirs. On Friday, the Spanish government approved the Sustainable Economy Law, (SEL) which enables rights holders to have infringing websites shut down within 10 days after a complaint is filed.
Once a complaint is made, a judge can order ISPs to block access to sites that host copyrighted material or have them shut down entirely. The law, which was officially passed early last year but never implemented, was approved by Spain’s new, more conservative government last week and will now be enacted as planned, much to the delight of the film and music industries, as well as other media companies.
If the law sounds like a more extreme version of SOPA, it probably has something to do with the fact that Spain has a much bigger piracy problem than the United States. Illegal file-sharing runs rampant in the country and it seems like every media industry trade group has a different set of statistics demonstrating how harmful this has been to them.
Under the new law, copyright complaints will be heard by a panel called the Intellectual Property Committee who will decide how to rectify the issue and are endowed with the power to go after site owners.
In the U.S., the anti-piracy legislation currently being debating in Congress would be limited to websites hosted outside the country’s borders and wouldn’t be quite as far-reaching as Spain’s new law. Still, to many the passage of SOPA’s Spanish counterpart feels like a taste of things to come should big media companies in the U.S. succeed in getting some version of SOPA or the Protect IP Act passed by the U.S. Congress.
Paving the Way For U.S. Investments
Pressure from Spanish copyright holders and media companies wasn’t the only factor in ensuring this law was passed. The country stands to see major investments in online streaming services there now that the law is enacted. U.S. media and technology companies, among others, have been waiting to make such investments until more serious steps were taken against file-sharing and online piracy in Spain. The passage of this law is exactly what they were waiting for. The country is already awaiting the launch of Nextflix within its borders early this year, and presumably more services will follow.
The law may lead to more legitimate online streaming services and delight the media industry, but that doesn’t assuage the concerns of digital rights groups, who take issue with SEL along lines similar to those of opponents to SOPA and PIPA in the United States. In short, they argue that granting media companies and judges the ability to shut down websites sets a very bad precedent and could easily be used to censor legitimate sites.
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