Monthly Archives: April 2015

U.S. Creators Will Benefit From Strong International Copyright Agreements

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and associated trade agreements took a step closer to becoming a reality last week, as a bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate that establishes negotiating objectives for the President.

As previously reported, talks between national representatives have been ongoing for some time, as negotiators lay the foundations for one of the most significant trade pacts of our time, covering everything from regulatory and currency practices to intellectual property rights.

It is the latter, of course, that much of our coverage has focused on, and which also has been an important talking point across media reports concerning the TPP.

A statement from Copyright Alliance CEO Sandra Aistars underlines this importance, expressing support for the approach adopted by senators in this legislation. Aistars explains:

“To meaningfully take advantage of the expanding opportunities presented by both technology and trade, creators rely on strong enforcement of copyright protections consistent with U.S. law.”

 

English: A North American Free Trade Agreement...

English: A North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the wider sense, expansive trade agreements have long held benefits for U.S. business, despite attempts to derail them at the time of negotiation.

1994’s North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, was criticized for its potential to see trade value leak from the country and cause an expected decline in key industries. Today it is credited with boosting the trade of U.S. goods and services with Mexico and Canada considerably, rising from $337 billion in 1993 to $1.2 trillion in 2011.
Despite opposition attempts to portray the negotiations as cloak and dagger, the Transpacific talks have been conducted no differently than any other major trade deal; the talking points, which are evisently public, are set up to frame the talks, after which details are thrashed out in private, as it should be, until the participants have the basis for an agreement that they can take back and present to their national authorities.

In the U.S. that means any potential agreement passing through a rigorous and robust legislative process, which from recent experience we all know to be a stern test of bipartisan support. If any proposal that emerges can win such support from both sides of the aisle, it would seem fair to suggest that its potential to boost the American economy is suitably convincing. We elect our officials to do this job and should trust their judgment when it comes to international trade just as we must in almost every other legislative matter.

If these negotiations – and resulting agreements – can strengthen international copyright protections and boosts long term trade at the same time, U.S. creators will be all the better for it.

Geo-dodging Thrusts VPNs Into the Global Piracy Debate

Earlier this year we looked at the growing trend of geo-dodging, a process whereby a user in one country can use a server in another country to access content with geographical release restrictions.

The act uses virtual private network (VPN) providers to bypass the online footprint that would otherwise flag their general location and raise the access limitations requested by rights holders.

 

Up to now, geo-dodging has been a secondary concern in the fight against piracy. Now, though, we see cases in New Zealand of television companies threatening to sue VPN services, bringing the trend to the front of technology and intellectual property headlines. Four of New Zealand’s most prominent media companies, SKY, TVNZ, Lightbox and MediaWorks, have joined together to deliver warning letters to VPNs and the internet service providers (ISPs) who enable their user activity.

While geo-dodging has frustrated companies like Netflix, which is known around the world but not available in all major markets, the greater focus has been on fighting direct piracy activity, such as unlicensed file-sharing, torrents and pre-release leaks.

Users getting around geographical content restrictions fell further down the list for two reasons: 1) the technology to accomplish geo-dodging was either not widely available to, or understood by, a majority of users, and 2) often it involves a paying subscriber in one country, so at least there is a sense that content is paid for, even if it isn’t authorized.

In other cases, such as US residents accessing the BBC’s UK-based iPlayer service, the issue is further blurred by the fact that the state broadcaster does not directly charge for its platform, though British tax payers do fund the organization as a whole. At its most basic, though, viewers are accessing content that wasn’t intended for their market, wrenching control from rights holders, and therein lies the problem.

As VPN apps become more common, so geo-dodging on legitimate content platform becomes more of an issue for anyone hoping to license their content to others.

As this practice grows into the public consciousness, it comes back to the very simple concept that content creators and rights holders have the right to choose where and when that content appears. The fundamentals of the licensing system – the market place through which creators can set a value for their content and allow others to use it based on demand, or simply artistic vision –  require that restrictions are respected by broadcasters, intermediaries, and viewers alike.

Though broadcasters and legitimate intermediaries tend to respect those restrictions and, indeed, pay a premium when they want to remove them, piracy facilitators and viewers . VPNs will have to decide which side of the fence they’re on, and how long they can play the privacy card before the weight of intellectual property law gives them a more serious problem to deal with.

 

At Home and Across the Atlantic, Google’s Legal Woes Grow

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

Google Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Google is facing a tough road ahead, legally-speaking, as both US and European organizations line up to question the company’s practices. 

Both challenges revolve around antitrust charges; not a new allegation for Google, but certainly coming at the dominant search engine with more teeth this time around. The American case focuses more on media accusations that a non-investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which dates back to 2012, requires further scrutiny.

Across the Atlantic, Google faces increased criticism within the European Union (EU), with whom its relationship has always been tense at best.

The accusations in this case come from competitors based in Europe, who allege that their American rival uses its de facto monopoly on the search market to steer potential customers to its own products and web properties. When those properties are presented at the top of the search results by a company that dominates the European market to the tune of more than 90 percent, and competitors pushed down to positions that are rarely viewed, it raises questions as to the true neutrality of those results.

 

This is where the EU comes in, overseeing a case that could potentially cost Google some $66 billion if authorities rule against the company and opt to fine it the full 10 percent of profits that European rules allow. Even for one of the most cash-rich brands in the world, that’s an amount that will do some significant damage.

If it goes all the way the case will mark a new low for Google in Europe, after many years of trading blows with the area’s regulators at both national or regional level.

Earlier this year we reported on why Google chose to pull its news services in Spain, following a disagreement with the government and certain media outlets in the country over how it scrapes their sites for news content. Suspiciously, only a couple of months later, the country’s attempt to block prominent piracy site The Pirate Bay was scuppered in part by a Google-related workaround. Although there was support for Google from some sections of the European media, the general reputation of the company is consistently under fire in the region, whether over its tax avoidance in the United Kingdom or privacy concerns in Germany.

The news issue, for example, is predated by a wider tug of war with the EU over the company’s patchy approach to user privacy, and the controversial “Right to be Forgotten” law that came into effect in Europe last year. Some believe Google’s actions in Spain amount to heavy-handed tactics, intended to communicate Mountain View’s displeasure with increasingly tight regulation of its activity. When a company holds all the cards in a marketplace as large as the EU, though, it’s fair to assume that it should be held to a high standard.

However, as we see in the U.S. and with the dropped FTC investigation, Google is used to getting what it wants and playing by its own rules.

As in many cases where it is asked to do its fair share to curb illicit and fraudulent activity, Google complained about the burden of responsibility and trotted out some well-worn arguments about unnecessary regulations stifling innovation. Now those arguments ring rather hollow, given the widespread antitrust accusations leveled against the company at home and abroad.

In Europe, Google’s greedy appetite to hold on to every last percentage point of market dominance may prove to be its undoing. Competition is a close companion to innovation, so stifling the former is really little different to hindering the latter, which Google so often accuses others of doing. For that reason, privacy and intellectual property advocates in the Unites States will be watching the European example closely as this case unfolds.