Monthly Archives: November 2015

Redefining Copyright Law on Both Sides of the Atlantic

If there’s one thing that most creators can agree on, it’s that copyright law could use a spit shine for the digital age. For all the good its underlying principles do in terms of protecting original creative works, technology is fast outpacing its application.

United States - European Union map

United States – European Union map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The practical ability of authorities to pursue piracy advocates and curb copyright infringement is limited by the outdated provisions of some areas of copyright law. Those laws were crafted for a time when consumers got online via a noisy modem and could barely download an album without dedicating a day to the activity, making illegal file sharing a major effort, and streaming unlicensed content completely out of the question.

Fast forward a little more than a decade and we have blazing fast connections with the bandwidth to access any form of content via all kinds of channels, legal or otherwise. Torrent sites and apps like Popcorn Time are the new challenge to rightholders, and it’s not a fight that’s easy to win with copyright enforcement as it stands.

English: Congressional portrait of Congressman...

English: Congressional portrait of Congressman Bob Goodlatte, 112th Congress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to dedicated advocacy from creative rights advocates, US lawmakers know this is an issue and have been working hard to better understand how they can craft copyright law for the digital generation and beyond.

Few are more prominent in this policy making endeavor than the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, whose name is now synonymous with the two-year-long review of US copyright law that condluded earlier this year.

This week Goodlatte was back in action, conducting a ‘listening tour‘ that stopped in both Silicon Valley and Los Angeles, with the aim of obtaining wider views on the myriad demands on US copyright law. Some excellent coverage of  the viewpoints heard can be found under the #CopyrightListening stream on Twitter.

A selection of those comments shows how important many creators view the modernization of copyright law:

Copyright Listening comments on Twitter

Over in Europe, things are even more complicated.

Flag of the European Union

Flag of the European Union (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


With 28 member states that make up the European Union (EU), copyright must cross more than just borders, working with multiple languages, varying cultural values, and different approaches to creativity. Nonetheless, the EU is planning a broad review of copyright in 2016, encompassing everything from a single digital market to more coordinated anti-piracy efforts.

The latter is particularly timely, as studies continue to show that piracy sites are significantly motivated to conduct their operations by the profits received from advertising and subscriptions. A key paragraph in the leaked correspondence on the EU’s plans makes specific mention of targeting this problem:

“[Anti-piracy measures] can deprive those engaging in commercial infringements of the revenue streams (for example from consumer payments and advertising) emanating from their illegal activities, and therefore act as a deterrent.”

All of this is music to the ears of rightsholders, who must often feel like they’re protecting their work with one hand tied behind the back.

Even when a creator knows where their work is being taken without permission and where to report it, the hit-and-miss complaint procedure and temporary nature of takedown notices makes for a time-consuming process. That’s time that most creative folks will tell you they’d rather spend, well, creating!

None of which is to say that copyright law is ineffective, but that its authority and enforcement measures must adapt as quickly as the technology that defines content distribution. Creators on both sides of the Atlantic will be hoping that their elected representatives can find a way to craft legislation that safeguards their work for generations to come.

BREIN Seeks to Define Streaming Piracy Crime in EU Court

Although it seems obvious to those of us with any sense of respect for intellectual property, the question as to whether viewing pirated content from a streaming site is illegal remains a gray area around the world.

That’s certainly true in the European Union (EU), where the region’s Court of Justice could soon rule on the legality of streaming unlicensed video content.

The court’s consideration arises thanks to the hard work of BREIN, a Dutch anti-piracy organization with a strong history of standing up for creative rights. Earlier this year they issued a dozen injunctions against some 128 sites engaged in copyright infringement and successfully took down a number of them.

Now, on the back of a case in the Dutch court system that was also brought to trial by BREIN, the very definition of piracy in the region could be redefined.

The issue arises because Europe has a gray area in its definition of copyright infringement, which holds that any unlicensed content held on a temporary basis does not breach intellectual property rights. In a world of digital downloads, which are clearly intended to remain on a hard drive for some time, this gap was not so important. As bandwidth increases around the world and streaming becomes the primary way we consume videos and music online, however, it quickly becomes a crucial definition to clear up.

The case is intriguing not just because it highlights a question that seems like simple common sense to most creators (yes, if someone takes my registered work without compensating me, it violates my rights). It’s also interesting as it stems from a legal challenge BREIN raised against not a piracy site or app, but manufacturers of hardware. The equipment in question comes pre-loaded with software that makes it easy to access unlicensed content with just a few clicks. Worse yet, it actively promotes this fact in order to sell more units.

Not unlike the successful action against VPN providers in New Zealand earlier this year, it appears that BREIN has a sound basis for its complaint against the defendants.  

In both cases, the ability to access copyrighted content for free is used as a key selling point for the hardware. This goes beyond simply being an intermediary that facilitates copyright infringement which is bad enough, and takes us into the realm of actively promoting and profiting from piracy. It is arguably the lowest form of content theft because, as seen in the case of Megaupload and its owners, led by Kim Dotcom, those behind the piracy promotion typically make a lot of money without ever compensating the creative talent that fuels their business model.

Not content to just address key anti-piracy issues with the EU’s highest legal authority, BREIN is also considering legal action against individual content thieves using Popcorn Time, piracy’s latest poster child platform. While going after the larger intermediaries who make piracy possible is typically a more effective approach, the threat posed by Popcorn Time could be such that individual law suits are explored to deter would-be pirates. A spokesperson for BREIN said as much when the possibility was raised, and this type of action is not without precedent in other parts of Europe.

Given the proliferation of affordable streaming services, it might seem unbelievable that we still face the problem of growing piracy in 2015. Unfortunately, there are still those who believe that simply getting online entitles them to take anything they want without paying for it. For that reason, the fight against piracy has to continue at all levels, and without organizations like BREIN, it would be a lot harder to steer consumers towards legal streaming channels.