Monthly Archives: October 2014

MPAA Flags Global Offenders in its “Most Notorious Markets” List

A new infringement list created by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) underlines the global commitment required if creators in every country are to be protected from piracy on an international scale.

In a press release on Monday, the MPAA listed a number of sites, particularly in Russia and the Netherlands, that it classed as especially problematic in terms of online piracy.

Piracy demonstration international issue

MPAA list underlines the global piracy problem. | Image Credit: Wikimedia

Rarely far from the headlines, it comes as little surprise that sites in Russia, like the country’s Facebook equivalent VKontakte and the lesser known Rapidgator.net, are at the heart of a trend towards illegal direct downloads and using streaming cyberlockers to access unlicensed content.

But sites based in Europe are no less to blame, with Dutch site Uploaded.net and even Germany’s Netload.in featuring among a shortlist of what the MPAA calls the “World’s Most Notorious Markets.” The list has been submitted to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, following the office’s request for input from those familiar with the matter.

While the MPAA’s focus is inevitably devoted to the impact on the U.S. creative economy, its findings speak to the wider struggle facing creators around the world. All too often the sites that take their work without permission are based in countries where their creative reach ends

In an age of global connections and widespread Western co-operation on a number of international issues, it seems unthinkable that no consensus can be reached to take down notorious havens for piracy in locations like Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand. With wider global concerns at play in Russia movement is perhaps less likely, although even there a commitment has been shown to clamp down on the theft of intellectual property. The country’s efforts have tended to fall down after the tough talk is done, however, as the case of major music labels being forced to take their own legal action against the aforementioned VKontakte demonstrates.

Though the global will may be present, it seems that effective action on the ground is not. It remains for the U.S. Trade Representative to escalate the issue, which requires not just national but international attention if creators in every country are to be effectively protected and receive the revenues they’re due.

Beyond Hollywood: International Movie Markets Look to Make Their Mark

For most casual fans of film, Hollywood is the first and last location name in movie making. But as tantalizing as Tinseltown is for actors and fans alike, there’s much more to production and many other excellent, if somewhat elusive film releases are made outside of U.S. borders.

Perhaps the best known of these is India’s Bollywood, a prolific section of the country’s movie industry that produces thousands of releases every year and contributes some . The Mumbai-based focus of film contributes several billion dollars to the Indian economy every year and has launched its own megastars, some of whom have crossed over to the market we in the West consider mainstream, such as Anil Kapoor of Slumdog Millionaire fame.

Bollywood Art

Image Credit: Meena Kadri

Where Bollywood is a term generally known by serious film buffs, Nollywood is unlikely to have reached such heights… yet. This week the New York Times name-checked the Nigerian film business of the same name,  citing the thousands of films produced by the country and the gritty, “bare-bones” nature of the industry as a prime attraction for domestic fans and those hardcore fans that the titles reach around the world.

Unfortunately the article also acknowledges a limiting factor all too familiar to global audiences: movie piracy. 

The box office revenues of Nigeria are reigned in, despite the huge level of production and passionate interest in what’s being made, by bootleggers. This illegal activity threatens to cut off the life blood of budding movie industries around the world, as cash is what impresses investors, and investment is what drives early-career filmmakers on to produce bigger and better movies.

Piracy is of course a problem in every country, from ripping off the big money blockbusters of Hollywood and denying them millions of dollars at the box office (see Expendables 3), to callously taking the work of rising talent without license, denying them the funds they need to get going on their next project.

At any level and in any country, widespread copyright infringement is a problem that requires both local and global enforcement in order to create an environment in which new talent can not only germinate, but bloom and grow with the funds that should be due to directors for success in their early work.

TPP Trade Negotiations Re-open in Australia

The latest round of talks to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership began in Canberra, Australia yesterday, bringing the twelve participating nations back together to discuss wide-ranging trade issues.

The negotiations will have a significant impact on how the major nations handle intellectual property rights, among other things, and an early leak of the copyright proposals has stoked online opinion, even before any clear consensus has been reached by participants.

Canberra Australia

Canberra Parliament | Image Credit: Brenden Ashton

 

The provisions include a standard copyright term, generally mooted as life of the creator plus somewhere between 50-100 years, measures to prevent getting around Digital Rights Management systems designed to prevent piracy, and a form of penalizing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for illegal access that occurs through the connections they run.

On the latter point participating nations are being particularly careful. Despite feeling that ISPs have a supporting role to play in enforcing intellectual property law, the tendency towards draconian measures such as long term disconnections and jail time has long since passed. The desire now, as indicated by Australia’s attempts to put cost limits in place and the wider desire for some form of intermediary “safe harbor,” is to bring ISPs more effectively into the fight for copyright protection. This is something that their business depends on, given how much content is consumed online and the increasing popularity of streaming music and movies.

As early drafts of the proposal confirm, the end game here is to create “remedies for rights holders to address copyright infringement in the online environment.” This has to be a good thing for creative rights, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride for the TPP so far.

Even with opposition to the way the negotiations are being held behind closed doors (not at all irregular for early draft international treaties) and the concern that any legislation will overreach (though individual nations will still be responsible for how they integrate any requirements into their own legal systems), the outcome of the TPP should accomplish a long overlooked goal: to help creators take control of their intellectual property rights beyond their own borders.

 

More Countries Pursue Anti-Piracy Education

The British government is coming under increased pressure to pursue a multi-pronged approach to copyright infringement. That’s the finding of MP Mike Weatherley, the man tasked by Prime Minister David Cameron with finding more effective ways to protect intellectual property (IP) in the United Kingdom.

Pulling no punches as to the importance of early education when it comes to copyright law and the need to both understand and respect creative rights, Weatherley states in his report that:

“The school curriculum needs to prepare pupils – from early years through to the end of secondary school and higher education – for the 21st century knowledge economy.”

If pursued by the country’s Prime Minister, the initiative would see new training for educational professionals on the legal side of IP, as well as a slew of resources like online tool kits and classroom materials to support the underlying message of any additions to the curriculum.

Education has become an increasingly important counterpoint to broader anti-piracy strategy. Where site shutdowns and political lobbying form the main drive of copyright activists, public education is the quieter follow up, a reminder that laws exist for a reason and legal alternatives to piracy are readily accessible.

The UK is just the latest country to pursue a deeper angle on piracy education. Following a concerning study showing that 7 in 10 people in Singapore engage in illegal downloading, the country moved quickly to explore not only blocking illegal sites, but rolling out information campaigns to steer new generations away from piracy. This was around the same time that the influential Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) backed an anti-piracy curriculum module called “Be a Creator,” aimed at promoting IP rights in the classroom and keeping children from the clutches of illegal activity here in the U.S.

Education is only one facet of the fight against piracy, but it’s ever-more important on a global scale. Countries around the world are quickly realizing that punishment is one thing, but when it comes to curbing illegal activity for a whole new generation, helping children to understand the value of copyright and the property of creators is something best achieved with early and subtle intervention.

 

The Kim Dotcom Saga Continues

Kim Dotcom appears to be back to his old tricks once again. The alleged media pirate kingpin and founder of digital filesharing site Megaupload is once again challenging U.S. jurisdiction over his finances. To set the stage, recall that Dotcom is being sued by Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Warner Brothers are suing Dotcom for US$100 million over alleged copyright infringement.

In addition to the civil charges, Kim Dotcom is currently facing U.S. criminal charges ranging from tax evasion to money laundering. The current dispute is over Dotcom’s frozen assets is taking place in New Zealand, where the Megaupload mogul sits awaiting extradition to the U.S. in his country mansion.

The larger picture raised by the Kim Dotcom case is the difficulty of pursuing legal actions, particularly in the civil context. In this case, we actually know who the defendant is and where he currently resides. That’s often the exception. In many piracy cases, it’s exceedingly difficult to track down who an offending site belongs to, much less where the alleged perpetrators can actually be found. Servers are frequently routed around the world, and quickly disappear into the Wild West of Eastern Europe where it’s difficult o track anything down.

For Kim Dotcom latest dispute is over a New Zealand high court ruling that Dotcom must file an affidavit revealing and detailing his financial assets worldwide. The plaintiffs in the copyright suit are concerned that the existing restraining order has not stopped Kim Dotcom from spending lavishly. The case is complex on jurisdictional grounds as the plaintiffs in a U.S. suit have petitioned a New Zealand court to rule against a plaintiff who has not submitted to U.S. jurisdiction.

There is certainly evidence that authorities have not reached all of Kim Dotcom’s assets. A case in point is Kim Dotcom’s funding of New Zealand’s failed Internet Party. It’s difficult to tell, from this vantage point, whether the quixotic founding and funding of the Internet Party was meant to be a true political statement, a prank or an opportunity to continue to party on a lavish scale (or some combination of all three). Kim Dotcom’s lawyers asserted that the plaintiffs were merely on a fishing expedition.

Russia Takes Aim at Media Pirates

stalingrad_posterRussia has set itself the goal of trying to rid itself of pirate sites. OK, maybe they’ll settle for just limiting them. That seems a very ambitious goal when you consider that Russia and the former Soviet republics have become the Wild West of nefarious online exploits.

Alexander Akopov, the head of Russia’s Russia’s film and television producers’ association has said that the existing laws will be toughened up by the end of the year. The Hollywood Reporter quotes Akopov as saying, “The idea is that the concepts of ‘blatant violation’ and ‘repeated violation’ are to be introduced, which would lead to immediately shutting down [pirate] web sites.”

Content rights owners are divided on how much of the responsibility for piracy, but are agreed that search engines should be tasked with playing more of an active role. Akipov said that the search engines were the “main pirates in the world.”

As an example of the success of the 2013 restrictions, regulators point to the success of removing last year’s hit “Stalingrad” from several pirate sites. That’s a promising start, but the real test will be whether Russian authorities will be as proactive in dealing with complaints lodged by non-Russian producers.

Some of the blame for piracy was put squarely on the Russian public. Russian film producer Sergei Selyanov derided many of the arguments used by pirate viewers as “childlike.” Akopov argued that Russians should stop “pretending that we are a poor country.” The comments were made during a forum at the St. Petersburg International Media Forum.

Related articles

Europe Hammers Away at Google

The disconnect between Google and European privacy authorities shows little sign of reaching a conclusion any time soon. Google’s stepped up lobbying efforts are only backfiring, according to analysis in Venture Beat.

European privacy regulators once again rebuked Google last week for its stepped up efforts to tie data gathering initiatives across its portfolio of platforms. The specific order last week, was issued by German authorities who informed Google that it was in violation of German law.

Then there’s the securities issue that has been bedeviling Google for several years. Google and the European Commission were on the verge of reaching a settlement to an ongoing EC antitrust violation when officials asked Google to make more changes to the terms.

The ongoing nature of the disputes is illustrative of two issues. The first is differences in expectations about privacy in Europe and the United States. The U.S. public has become accepting or perhaps resigned to the fact that privacy is going the way of the dinosaur, or being redefined, depending on your take on it. Europeans are less willing to let go, or at least that’s the view of proactive European regulators.

The second issue is more speculative. It is whether the EC resents the fact that it is a U.S. company that’s moving in on privacy. That’s a double whammy that might be just a bit too much to take for some in the EC. From a U.S. perspective it rings of anti-competitiveness. But I can understand an ambivalence to give up privacy in the name of Google profits. What’s perhaps missing is an understanding of what might be possibly gained by Google’s data grab.

Australia’s Foxtel Takes Aim at Pirates

Foxtel Logo

The success of Australian media company Foxtel should not be used as an excuse for piracy, according to its CEO Richard Freudenstein. Speaking at Sydney’s Copyright Forum, Freudenstein contended that the livelihood of professionals in the entertainment industry was being threatened by piracy. “I think there is a real risk that people see this as all about big companies. It’s about writers, it’s about directors it’s about people selling popcorn in movie theatres,” Freudenstein said.

Interestingly, Google’s Australian head of public policy Ishtar Vij responded that the Australian government’s move to crack down on pirates could stifle creativity and place an undue burden on creative professionals. She added, “”Content owners need to be able to control their content online but it can’t be done in a way that compromises the broader ecosystem.” That’s a more assertive position than Google has taken at home in the U.S. Freudenstein responded  to Google, saying, “We’ll have a lot more cats on skateboards and a lot less Game of Thrones,” he said.

The video wars in Australia are set to enter a new stage as Netflix readies itself to enter the market. Just last month Foxtel lowered the price of its basic cable package by half to about A$25. Freudenstein said it was a response to affordability issues. Others contend it was b brushback directed against Netflix. Stay tuned. Things are heating up Down Under.

 

 

BBC Store Hints at a Drive to Greater Global Access

BBC world logo

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Often held up as a paragon of broadcasting virtue,  where the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) leads, other programmers tend to follow – – by way of a timely example, it just won two Emmys here in the U.S.

So the news that the public service organization will next year introduce its own version of a digital content store is sure to  have broadcasters around the world considering where their own service offerings stand, by comparison.

The idea that the next evolution of entertainment will be based on accessibility and reliability is not a new one, but the international question remains a crucial sticking point to one of its key tenets. Anyone who spends a standard amount of time online looking for content knows that running into geographic restrictions – the dreaded “not available in your country” warning – is a common barrier.

Although the first iteration of the BBC Store will serve only British audiences, a further hint at the desire to “go global” lies in the tentative steps towards bringing iPlayer, the corporation’s streaming service, to an international audience. The radio wing of iPlayer is already edging out into the wider world, while its TV offerings are facing a slower but steadily popular rise through international arms like BBC America and the World Service.

The corporation clearly wants to expand the audience for its vast archive as far and wide as possible, but to do so must avoid stepping on the toes of many other parties in individual countries, from rival broadcasters with their own content agreements to digital retailers that include some of the biggest technology brands in the world.

Although that’s no mean feat, if anyone can accomplish international access the BBC is perhaps the most well placed to do so.

As a public service (to the British public, admittedly, but nonetheless driven less purely by revenue than most) the corporation has more of a focus on serving its audience with deep, diverse content than broadcasters who rely on advertising revenue. Even with the first step of the BBC Store the service has confirmed that links to purchase content on other major digital services, such as iTunes or Amazon, will be integrated into the system.

And as the Hollywood Reporter article above explains, BBC Worldwide president Marcus Arthur confirms that this move is “as much about the archive as it is about current content.” Only six percent of BBC content is currently available to buy, meaning that this play could expand audiences for all manner of titles both at home and abroad. Even if an early work-around is to link users outside of the UK to services in their own country that do host the desired content, it’s still a small step towards greater international access, and one that major digital content providers would surely embrace as a new source of traffic and custom.

Eventually it seems likely that intellectual property restrictions based on geographic location and release exclusivity will have to recede.

Audiences around the world are increasingly connected and aware of what their peers in other places are watching, reading, and listening to,m making it all the more desirable to search them out.Whether or not the BBC ushers in a new era of access, it’s in the best interests of entertainment company and consumer alike that they find a legitimate service to pay for when they reach out beyond their own borders.