Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Reality of Asking ICANN to Unveil the Anonymous

One of the greatest strengths of the Internet, its ability to operate without right or regard for international borders, is also one of its most troubling. This truly global nature opens up unique opportunities that no other channel can reach but can also used to bypass strong legal frameworks.

Intellectual property is one of those affected areas, and it is for this reason that rights holders and authorities are trying to add a layer of accountability to commercial operations online.

ICANN Logo

ICANN Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Standing against these efforts is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Dedicated to blocking any initiatives that it fears will alter the early days of an Internet without limits – and often without respect for laws – this is an organization with its fingers in a lot of pies. And with its friends in high (tech) places, the EFF also has the funds and associated lobbying power that it denounces in other activist groups.

That said, it comes as no surprise to see the EFF rallying its troops for a debate around the responsibilities of ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – which is the US-based entity charged with keeping the Internet “secure, stable and interoperable.” 

That would be fine if the EFF had any intention of making its case in a calm and measured manner. After all, it is ICANN’s stated goal to hear from multiple stakeholders and come to a balanced conclusion about what the wider online community wants to see from the organization. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the past, tech sector-backed lobbying groups like EFF tend to take an extreme tack to their activism, rooting arguments in Orwellian language and playing on fear as a primary mode of influence.
That’s a requirement in this case, because there’s no reason to believe that legitimate online entities will be subject to some unprompted mass outing and stripped of their digital liberty by rights holders, as the tech lobbyists are beginning to paint this particular picture. ICANN president Fadi Chehadé  said as much last week in Washington, confirming that the organization will strictly avoid becoming any kind of “content police.”

The issue here is about identifying the bad actors online through ICANN, not molding the organization into judge, jury and executioner. That said, there is still a fundamental role for it to play in securing creative rights online, as its stated objective alludes to.

As a fundamental organizer of the Internet, ICANN cannot avoid its responsibility to aid authorities when a crime is committed. Where anonymity helps criminals, whether content thieves, data hackers, our worse, it should be lifted to help investigators shut down illegal operations.

As a side note, it’s worth remembering that this proposal is not yet final, but it being discussed by a working group at ICANN.  Despite being at such an early stage, EFF lawyers are already calling this idea “troubling,” citing a desire to prevent spam and other minor irritations, at least in comparison to the theft of creative works that anonymity can sometimes cloak.

“Respect our privacy” is the call on early EFF materials. This should really read “Respect Our Piracy,” as the organization once again lines up to fight the removal of a key provision for hiding those who own the domains facilitating content theft.

Sweden Suffers a 25% Revenue Hit Resulting from Piracy

The entertainment industry in Scandinavia has a tendency to occupy both ends of the consumption spectrum. In any one month you might see headlines in Norway proclaiming piracy dead, while the country’s Pirate Party campaigns for its own extreme take on a free and open Internet.

English: Snow Cover Across Scandinavia. In thi...

Snow Cover Across Scandinavia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile, in neighboring Sweden, music streaming on sites as wide-ranging as Spotify to illegal veterans The Pirate Bay shows the area as a home to both legitimate profit and piracy.

Thus, depending on your most recent reading material, the situation for copyright protection and creative rights in the region could swing from doom and gloom to profitable paradise in one sitting.

Unfortunately this piece will have to speak to the former, as Sweden’s movie and television industry this month confirmed that it loses an estimated $100 million annually from piracy in the country.

A Frosty Picture for Swedish Filmmakers

The number arises from a report conducted on Swedish TV and movie consumption in 2014, which included 280 million instances of illegal viewing. Commissioned by the country’s Film and TV Industry Cooperation Committee, the findings show that almost one-quarter of the nation’s market for these productions is being lost to consumption via unlicensed channels.

Inevitably, this leads to a frustrating creative environment for filmmakers and TV producers in Sweden. Citing the issues that providing a home to piracy sites causes for creators both at home and abroad, Per Strömbäck, the reporting organization’s expert on digital trade, says “the situation is not sustainable.”

His analysis is correct, and also the reason that copyright activists advocate so vociferously for stronger measures to protect creators globally. Any one country can give rise to piracy and cause significant problems for creators around the world. The 25% figure shows a major concern not just for Sweden, where the impact is of course most immediately felt, but beyond its borders when productions from other countries are viewed by its citizens, or by using services they host.

Fighting Back

The most disheartening part of this latest piracy setback is that Sweden is far from a hospitable place for pirates, at least in terms of upholding copyright law.

On the contrary, the country’s authorities have conducted several raids on piracy server sites this year already, as well as having a hand in bringing the co-founders of The Pirate Bay, which was born in Sweden, to justice.

This is also the nation that just two years ago levied a six-figure fine to an individual for sharing a film illegally. Suffice it to say, the proliferation of piracy in and around Scandinavian countries is not for the want of a strong stance against it by the relevant authorities.

It is the country’s commitment to technological advancement, however, that appears to have set it up as an inviting location for pirates to test their limits. After expanding broadband capabilities in the early days of the Internet, along with encouraging digital consumption of music, movies and television, it was perhaps inevitable that Sweden would become one of the front lines in the fight against piracy.

What is encouraging is the fact that this approach has also allowed legitimate streaming sites to flourish, with the convenience and affordability of what they offer proving a powerful competitor to the lure of piracy sites. The aforementioned headlines in Norway, while perhaps a little overblown, nonetheless prove that legal streaming can make inroads against illegal platforms, given enough time.

With a supportive government and a strong commitment to copyright law, there is every reason to believe that Sweden and its surrounding countries can become a model for entertainment industries around the world, rather than a black mark on the general European trend towards protecting creators.

ISP Blocks Show EU and Russia Driving the Fight for Copyright

As creators and innovators across the country celebrate the 225th anniversary of the first U.S. Copyright Act, it feels counterintuitive to talk about other nations leading us in the fight against infringement.

Nonetheless, the inescapable fact is that most of the decisive action against piracy in 2015 has come from outside our borders, be it Canada’s uncompromising notice-and-notice system that we wrote about last week, or the ISP blocks that are rolling out in the Europe: notably in the UK and even Russia.

The United Kingdom is currently at the forefront of handling piracy through the pipes, rather than at its source. The latest effort saw the country’s highest court order major Internet Service Providers in Britain to block customer access to sites like Freebookspot and Bookfi, which contain several million titles that infringe copyright. The Publisher’s Association sought these blocks after hitting its own frustrating million mark, namely the vast number of DMCA takedown requests filed by the organization and its members.

As we all know by now, these attempts to permanently remove stolen content by directly targeting the sites that host them are ludicrously ineffective, generally seeing the same content popping up via a new link within days, if not hours of being taken down. Such was the case with the books offered up by these sites, forcing the court to authorize more extreme measures and require ISPs to prevent access to them altogether. While there were undoubtedly some titles on the services in question that were legitimate, it’s fair to call any site reputedly comprising as much as 80% unlicensed content a piracy site. The damage to authors was far more significant than the licensed content benefiting consumers, therefore the legal authorities had no choice but to take decisive action.

The case is just the latest in the UK involving more severe measures. The lucrative rights to the English Premier League have long been undercut by sites that live stream their soccer matches, leading the organization to wage an ongoing war on any such site that gains enough popularity. These ISP blocks date back several years and have been successful in kicking some major offenders out of of the game. The battle is continuous, but worth fighting for those who rely on income from the sport. A similar stance has been adopted by organizations representing movie makers and musicians across the pond, showing authorities and the British government that piracy is a wider economic problem, rarely confined to a niche audience.

Western Europe is not too far removed from North America when it comes to valuing creative rights, so exchanging ideas is not unexpected. In terms of Russia, however, the U.S. would expect to be far in front of its old rival when it comes to copyright protection measures.

While it would be unfair to suggest that we lag behind Russia’s anti-piracy ideas – the country was after all labeled a “most notorious market” as recently as last year –  its government has been taking a much stronger stance in 2015. The latest order to block sites like The Pirate Bay stands in stark contrast to the U.S., where we can’t even convince influential American companies like Google to sink the pirates from its search results. Russia is far from being a flag bearer for free and creative expression, but it is showing the kind of uncompromising action that protects the work of those who do hold those values.

While it’s true that copyright infringement is an international problem that must be handled with cross-border co-operation, the value of U.S.-based creators is often disproportionately large compared to other countries. That’s not to denigrate the creative works of other nationalities, merely to show that the United States government has a vested interest in leading the world in the fight against piracy.

As it stands our country is doing far too much following, which does a disservice to the creative sector and those who work tirelessly to feed consumer appetite for entertainment and culture.

Supporting ISP blocks on sites guilty of flagrant infringement would be a good start to getting back out in front.