Category Archives: Entertainment

British High Court Blocks a Who’s Who of Piracy Sites

UK courts of justice

Royal Courts UK Crest – Photo Credit: Wikimedia

After three years in operation, a list of websites blocked by order of the British High Court reads like a who’s who of online copyright infringement.

Including such infamous piracy sites as Popcorn Time, isohunt, Bittorrent, and The Pirate Bay, the project has yet to hit 100 names, but still sums up the massive battle facing rights holders around the world.

As well as the hard work of the British Phonographic Institute (BPI), which makes up the majority of the block requests, further interest is to be found in claims from the likes of Cartier and Montblanc, clearly concerned about counterfeit watches being sold online, and the Football Association, which manages the viewing rights to Britain’s lucrative Premier League soccer games.

Both represent premium international brands, albeit in very different consumer markets, being undercut by sites that trade on their reputation but contribute nothing to its maintenance.

This diverse group of plaintiffs typifies the piracy problem; whether physical product or digital goods, any online intermediary that takes intellectual property without paying for the privilege damages the long-term viability of the brand and business that created it. 

The United Kingdom is, of course, a friend and similarly-minded market to the United States when it comes to intellectual property protection, so it comes as no surprise to see several claims from the Motion Picture Association of America upheld and enforced by British court order.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said of many countries that host piracy sites, hence the ongoing  drive to “name and shame” not only the companies who play a major role in international copyright infringement, but the nations that let them get away with it.

The companies themselves also face a stark choice between legitimacy and piracy, as Alibaba is now finding out from its history on that same list of notorious markets. Facilitating counterfeit operations presumably did its growth no harm when it operated primarily to a domestic audience in China. Now that its hopes to continue the rapid expansion of the past year rest in the US, however, the ecommerce giant is having to lobby extra hard to erase that black mark(et) from its past.

Sadly, most piracy sites involved in content theft face no such problems. They hold no aspirations of becoming legitimate media sites, only a desire to operate outside the law long enough to make a name for themselves in piracy circles, attract enough attention to score some ill-gotten ad revenue, then disappear once they’re blocked, only to rise again under some alternative name.

The UK court’s list reminds us of both the progress and ongoing problems in the fight to protect intellectual property. Hopefully it won’t have to get too much longer to keep the major piracy sites out of business permanently.

 

 

Whether Carrot or Stick, Copia Is Using It to Flog a Dead Horse

It’s always entertaining to watch someone attempt to turn an old idea into a revolutionary one, so imagine our delight – or dismay, if anyone takes it seriously – to read a Techdirt article doing just that. Better yet, doing so under the guise of a carefully researched “report!”

If you don’t have the heart to wade through yet more head-in-the-sand, piracy apologist schtick, here’s the hypothesis: where legal streaming services launch, piracy drops.

 

Mind = Blown, right?

This unremarkable conclusion is communicated in a thoroughly clichéd way, within a report entitled “The Carrot or The Stick: Innovation vs. Anti-Piracy Enforcement.” The document is commissioned by The Copia Institute, a Google-backed think tank which appears to receive its thoughts from the tech lobby, pretty them up in Powerpoint with some clip art, before labeling them “innovative” and releasing them into the wild.

Less an innovative think tank, more recycled arguments from a stagnant thought pool.

To take this case directly, though, let’s neuter one false premise from the outset; enforcing intellectual property law and encouraging innovation are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the former supports the latter by giving inventors and artists some degree of confidence that they will be able to make a living from their groundbreaking ideas, without someone taking them without permission.

Nor does the fact that innovation makes exciting and legal new services available for our entertainment needs mean that there’s no place for anti-piracy initiatives. There will always be those who seek to profit from content that isn’t theirs to sell, and there will always be a niche of technologically-able users who have no qualms about circumventing legal safeguards to get take what they want for nothing. As we see in the cases of Kim Dotcom/Megaupload and The Pirate Bay’s founders, anti-piracy protection is key to bringing down the illegal side of the content equation. This actually aids legal services, who understand the need to compensate creators,  because they aren’t subject to unfair competition from those who feel no need to respect intellectual property law.

From there, the entire argument falls apart, because each area must be dissected on its own merits, with little or no correlation to the other. Yes, there must be a drive to innovate and launch new entertainment services. Yes, there should be legislation in place to prevent unauthorized services vying with those that legally source their content. But the two can live side-by-side, even symbiotically, without detracting from the other. Disagree with the effectiveness of specific anti-piracy programs, by all means, but don’t try to tell us that the existence of legal services means that all efforts to curb the illegal ones should be killed.

The idea that the entertainment industry is opposed to innovation and fails to launch services that consumers want is no longer just a tired argument, it’s on the side of the road, wheezing and, we have to hope, just about ready to quit the race.

Most mainstream consumers have not yet arrived at the streaming station, but everyone from cable companies to online-only startups is now introducing. From the MPAA itself, which so often bears the brunt of criticism , the Where to Watch initiative helps to guide viewers to the content . Such a sound idea that companies like Apple and Amazon, often held up as the height of tech innovation, are just now beginning to integrate Universal Search options into their streaming solutions!

The simple fact is that the entertainment industry is working hard every day to update its production and distribution to reach consumers when and where they want to watch. Most are willing to compensate them for this effort, be it in the form of subscription fees, one-time charges, or simply watching a few ads during their content.

There’s a section of the online environment, however, that tasted piracy early on and now refuses to give up the notion that they are entitled to take any content they want, without ever having to pay anything. As much as piracy apologists like Techdirt, appropriately named, try to sling mud on the creative industry for being dinosaurs and deliberately holding back innovation, real world products simply don’t let that stick.

Cheapskate (You Ain't Gettin' Nada)

An honest approach to piracy apologism? — Cheapskate (You Ain’t Gettin’ Nada) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rather than conduct “research” into the glaringly obvious to support their own ends, it would be refreshingly honest to hear something else we already know from this crowd: “we’re cheap and we don’t to pay people to create things that entertain us.”

It won’t make the attitude any more easy to stomach, but at least the arguments will finally come from a place that can be logically, if not legally justified.

 

 

Kim Dotcom Extradition Hearing Highlights Fraud on a Global Scale

The long-awaited extradition hearing of Kim Dotcom finally got underway last week, as a court in Auckland, New Zealand began to listen to arguments in favor of sending the piracy figurehead to the USA to face justice.

It’s no secret that Dotcom has polarized public opinion over the months and years since his file-sharing service Megaupload was shut down by US authorities in 2012. To some, he is the face of the “information wants to be free” argument, suffering persecution for their cause. To others, including the creators on whose back his company Megaupload crassly profited, he is simply a fraudster who has managed to evade the law… until now.

 

The latter is the case that the prosecution will make as they try to make the case that the self-styled “Bond villain” of piracy has crimes to answer for in the United States. The early appeals have been for the judge to disregard the distractions raised by Dotcom’s offline antics, from luxurious mansion-living of his Antipodean exile to his poorly-executed political career. Instead, prosecutors point to the “simple scheme of fraud” perpetrated by the service’s founder and his three cohorts at Megaupload.

That scheme includes not just offering unlicensed content for download, as is bad enough and so many sites continue to do. No, Megaupload was much more manipulative in its climb to the top of the piracy site standings.  The site created a reward structure that incentivized subscribers to seek out popular content and share it, in exchange for features and financial benefits depending on the demand for what they offered. The site was not innovative, as its owners claimed, nor was it making the requested and required steps to remove unlicensed content that Dotcom told authorities were in progress.

Consider the gall of offering something that others work hard to create, without paying for the privilege to make it available, then making users pay for that access without passing anything on. Throw in the profits from advertising and you have hundred of millions of dollars generated, for doing nothing more than creating a cloud storage system full of content you have no right to offer.

The case of Kim Dotcom typifies both the difficulty that authorities face in protecting home-grown talent on the global stage and the progress that can be made when national organizations work together to ensure that no-one is out of reach.

Although the distraction and theater surrounding Dotcom means it has taken years to get to this point, and will take longer still to get him to the US to answer the charges against him, the results will speak for creators everywhere. Intellectual property is protected by copyright law and that law forces piracy advocates .

Even when it takes years, the case of Kim Dotcom and the fate of his peers shows that there is nowhere for piracy profiteers to hide, regardless of how long it takes to make them face justice.

Australia Sees a Shift Towards Legal Streaming Services

Netflix has only been around in Australia for six months but it is already showing signs of steering online viewers back to licensed content. Along with home-grown peers like Presto and Stan, the company that launched down under back in March has helped to usher in a tangible drop in piracy, according to consumer group Choice.

Reliefmap of Australia

Reliefmap of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The organization focused on two main areas: Australians who identify as “regular pirates” and those who have engaged in at least one unlicensed content act – downloading or streaming – in the past year.

In Choice’s follow up to its 2014 study those numbers dropped by three and six percent respectively, showing minor but not insignificant shifts against acts of piracy, given the short time frame in question.

Extending out to several years, if these trends continue then the signs for legal streaming – and the compensation such services bring for rightsholders – are promising. 

At this early stage, there is a lot of room for legal streaming services to expand into the public consciousness. Every subscription to a legitimate service means a consumer contributing to the creative economy and less likely to take from that same pot by accessing content from unlicensed sources.

The arrival of international services like Netflix should also spur competition among native platforms, encouraging spending on exclusive content and original titles that resonate with Australian audiences.

streaming-services-logos-usa

We need look only to the North American ecosystem to see the benefits of widespread legal streaming success. It’s not just Netflix with Emmy Awards for House of Cards and critical acclaim for new series like Narcos (both of which Australians can now access in full, as an aside). Whether the investment in new productions by Hulu, the launch of a dedicated streaming service by HBO, or the Amazon investment in Top Gear presenters that CEO Jeff Bezos himself has described as “very, very, very expensive,” it is clear that not only does legal streaming support creative production, it actually drives that creativity to the next level as competing services try to outdo each other to attract more subscribers.

As we covered in our recent spotlight on Scandinavia, no single anti-piracy tactic should stand alone if we expect to see success. Each must be supplemented by a strong national stance against piracy sites, and education for the public as to how they can avoid unlicensed content and support creativity through legal channels. The final leg of that stool involves competitive and attractive streaming services, however, and the increased availability of those services in Australia seems to support that as an important element to curb piracy, even at this early stage.

Denmark is the Latest Front in Scandinavia’s Stand Against Piracy

20 prominent piracy sites have been blocked by a district court in Denmark, in the latest move from a Scandinavian country fighting back against online piracy. The action stems from the continued hard work of Rights Alliance, who earlier this year achieved a block on 12 other important sites in Denmark’s piracy ecosystem.

Flag of Denmark ("stutflag" version)

Flag of Denmark (“stutflag” version) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similar blocks have been achieved around Europe this year, leading to a feeling of renewed impetus in the creative community that the fight back against those who trade on their work without permission

Even against that backdrop of increased activity across the continent, there is something especially satisfying about seeing progress made in Scandinavia. The region is very much at the forefront of music streaming, in both legal and unlicensed channels, making it something of a symbolic battle in the wider war to stamp out content theft.

The Pirate Bay logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two of the most recognized names at both ends of the spectrum, Spotify on the legal streaming side and The Pirate Bay on the illegal side, both started in Sweden. The tug of war between each side has been tumultuous in recent years but there are now signs that legal streaming is forging ahead, while illegal sites face an uphill battle against increasingly vigilant authorities.

And it isn’t just blocks and punishment of piracy that Denmark is focusing on to curb illegal activity.

Back in May, the Danish Ministry of Culture announced important new partnerships with prominent technology companies and ISPs, aimed at promoting ethical content consumption online.

That initiative focused more on non-legislative solutions, such as working with ISPs to weed out sites that facilitate piracy and encouraging digital advertising networks to shut off the flow of ad income to piracy sites, which the Digital Citizens Alliance continues to report as a key motivator for those who trade on unlicensed content.

In this microcosm of the streaming content world we see in play the three pillars of the anti-piracy fight that can make a difference across the macro environment:

  • 1) Legal alternatives to piracy sites,
  • 2) Initiatives to educate consumers about those sites and explain the damage that piracy sites do to creators, alongside partnerships to cut off ad revenue,
  • 3) Punitive measures to deter owners of piracy sites and the ability to take them offline if they persist in sharing unlicensed content.

There has been an imbalance in the past, due to a lack of legal streaming sites in the mainstream consciousness and limited efforts to cut off ad revenue to their illegal peers. Now, with all three pillars firmly established and gaining traction, it looks like creators will finally be able to push back on the pirates, with Scandinavia showing us the way forward.

 

 

 

The Sky Is Falling, At Least in the EFF’s Digital World

“What color is the sky in your world?” 

A polite and gently humorous way to tell another party that their reality may be a little different to the one the rest of us are experiencing. Unfortunately it’s Chicken Little, if you’re the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and you inhabit a digital world in which the sky is constantly falling.

 

Nowhere is that more evident than this week, as the organization that charges itself with “Defending Your Rights In the Digital World” channels the righteous efforts of its legal team towards supporting Movietube, a site that excels in ripping off the digital rights of creators.

The concept is simple, until you choose to complicate and obfuscate in the manner that the EFF has down to a fine art.

Movietube and the  sites that it associates with its service are operated to serve up stolen content, unpaid and unlicensed from its original creators. That content gives the site a selling point to attract its traffic, on the basis of which it sells advertising, subscriptions, or both. Less some minor hosting and maintenance costs, the gap between what the site should have paid for that content and what it can bring by providing it for free is pure profit. Profit that the creative talent behind said content can never see, of course, because Movietube and its ilk are ripping them off without compunction or a care for the law.

The latter is important, because these sites operate outside of national law, in the digital world that the EFF is so staunchly defending. This is a world in which the creator has no rights or respect, and serves simply to make the content that others can profit from. To confirm this, look no further than the site’s policy on content licensing:

“Luckily we are not a US company, so we do not need to respect US laws.” -Movietube

By running their sites from countries without the motivation or means to pursue them, the current legal framework makes it extremely difficult to protect intellectual property across some international borders. Productions that might cost hundreds of millions of dollars and countless creative hours to make are immediately released for free public viewing in this reality, which begs the question: how are creators supposed to live in this world the EFF is trying to mould?

 

 

But while it conveniently ignores the legal transgressions of piracy sites in favor of spouting its latest Doomsday scenario, the EFF simultaneously exaggerates the legal action being sought by rightsholders in their suit against Movietube.

Far from seeking “one court order to bind… the entire Internet,” as the rather Tolkien-esque language employed in a blog by EFF lawyer Mitch Stoltz proclaims, studios are in fact seeking injunctions based on infringement complaints that are well established in copyright case law.

Moreover, these actions are pursued in federal courts that fully respect our founding legal principle of due process. Action is only taken against defendants if and when an independent court determines that the legal rights of US creators have been violated, and only binds third parties that have direct ties with the infringing party, by actively aiding that copyright infringement.

With these details presented, the only recourse for those with a pathological fear of any legal action involving Internet content restriction is to muddy the waters. By painting the issue with broad strokes Doomsday scenarios and infusing the discussion with the fear-mongering so characteristic of technology lobbying.

The sky is falling…. again.

Which brings us back to SOPA; such a frequently used crutch of the technology lobby that its original context matters not a jot, so long as it supports that aforementioned skyline from falling to whatever is chosen as this week’s extinction level event.

The EFF and its well-positioned cronies around the tech sector keep returning to SOPA for one reason: it’s the perfect rabble-rouser. SOPA is to tech populism as Obamacare is to the political far-right in the US, a cultural shorthand guaranteed to raise the ire of your rank and file, regardless of how it is twisted or inaccurately applied as a comparison.

As effective as this tactic is, it tends to be rolled out whenever the underlying argument against the actual issue is inherently weak. After examining the content of Movietube’s character, and the exaggerated rhetoric of the EFF’s argument against penalizing it, we’ll leave you to decide which world is the better one for creators to live in.

 

Will International Appeal Give Apple Music the Edge Over Spotify?

Apple Music launched last week with less fanfare than expected, perhaps a victim of early holiday travel ahead of U.S. Independence Day.

Regardless, it is the long haul that matters most to Apple, as the world’s most valuable brand attempts to claw back the early-mover advantage that Swedish rival Spotify has enjoyed – and exploited  – to date.

Part of that strategy is likely to be played out on the global stage, as Apple’s new streaming service is available in significantly more markets than its peers. 

 

For a quick comparison, Apple Music has launched in more than 100 countries, which is almost twice as many as Spotify currently operates in. Furthermore, there are a number of territories in which Apple has launched its service where neither Spotify nor any other notable competitors currently operate.

Perhaps most importantly of all, these are not all smaller territories with limited market potential.

Among the territories in which Apple Music will beat Spotify to the punch are India, Russia, Japan, and  Nigeria. Between these four alone, the number of potential consumers could stretch into the billions, although activating them inevitably poses a major challenge given prevailing levels of piracy and, with the exception of Japan, less mature streaming markets. This provides a stark contrast to the reverse situation for Spotify, wherein the only markets it will now operate without competition from Apple Music are Turkey, Taiwan and smaller European nations like Liechtenstein and Andorra.

The importance of this advantage cannot be overstated. For many consumers in these countries, which potentially hold the key to the global expansion of streaming music, Apple’s platform will be their first experience of the phenomenon. Given the game-changing nature of digital streaming, not to mention the fact that many hold it up as the long-term solution to piracy, the potential for Apple Music to take giant strides into these territories is just as crucial as its need to build a customer base in the United States, Europe, and Australia.

In June, Spotify announced that it has passed the 20 million mark in terms of paid subscribers, while its overall active user base now numbers more than 75 million globally. Although that growth rate is increasing quickly, Apple Music is not competing from a standing start. The hundreds of millions of active iTunes accounts the Cupertino company has on file provide a solid base to convert to its new service, in addition to the Beats Music users that it hopes to bring across from the service it purchased last year.

All of this sets the stage for an intriguing evolution of the streaming music space. The market, although relatively young, has been waiting for some time for Apple to enter the fray and challenge Spotify’s dominance. It is clearly a battle that Apple intends to win, if the brand’s commitment to pay artists for all streams during its three-month free trial period is anything to go by. That will cost Apple a pretty penny, but the company clearly believes the long-term pay off in terms of brand awareness and the associated loyalty will be worth it.

For artists, the hope has to be that Apple can use its extensive resources to raise awareness of streaming music services and increase . It this really is the piracy killer that many believe it to be, making streaming subscriptions a truly global trend will have everyone involved in the music business singing Apple’s praises.

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.

How “Going Global” in New Zealand Hurts Legitimate Internet Providers

Last month we examined the issue of Internet providers in New Zealand being warned by the country’s broadcasters to take action against subscribers who use virtual private networks (VPNs) to get around geographical licensing restrictions. With these services, viewers around the country can access and view website content that might otherwise be restricted to other nations or regions.

Although this can sound harmless enough on the surface, when it comes to valuable content like movies, television, and music, there’s every chance it could mean the difference between business and bankruptcy for legitimate Internet providers in New Zealand.

 

Once you delve deeper it becomes clear just how intentional this practice is at a business level, not one driven by individual users. Several non-facilities based telecommunications companies – i.e. those with no central offices to pay for or networks to maintain – from New Zealand are engaged in the resale of broadband connections to residential subscribers. On its own this is of course a legitimate business model, much in the same way that non-network mobile providers in the U.S. make use of the main carrier networks to repackage and sell cellular services.

It’s the next step that has the major telecoms providers and rights holders up in arms, and with good reason.  As this article on Tech Policy Daily explains, the resellers are attempting to gain market share by bundling a DNS geo-block defeating mechanism into their broadband services. Essentially, they’re saying to customers that they can provide them with a way around those pesky viewing barriers, or “legal regional licensing agreements” to those of us who have some degree of respect for creative rights and control of content.

Where this particular article departs from fact is in suggesting that there is any argument that these non-facilities based resellers are promoting. One look at the marketing literature from these companies, or even the comments from those in charge, shows exactly where their intentions lie.

Take Slingshot, for example, who make no bones about their “Global Mode” sales pitch:

Slingshot Global Mode Plan

This marketing push is enough to assure customers that they will gain access to overseas content services such as Netflix simply by signing up with services like Slingshot.

What’s more, the offering is pitched in such a way that it makes it sound like this level of access is not only legitimate, but something they should expect from all providers. When those who have invested in networks, offices, and content licensing agreements specific to their country fail to offer such a global service, it perversely reflects badly on the legitimate provider, rather than the likes of Slingshot who are skirting the rules and riding on the infrastructure of other businesses.

The bottom line is that established and respected service providers spend more than US $300 million every year for rights to the content they bring to New Zealand. Add this to the cost of providing a variety of traditional and Internet-based services to customers, with all the infrastructure and capital costs that brings, and it’s a significant investment in bringing that content to the country in the many ways viewers and listeners want to consume it.

While there may be some lag between release windows, the fact is that legitimate services are constantly evolving to meet customer demand and the licensing agreements in place ensure that creators are rewarded for each new market in which their work succeeds. This is the basis for continued revenue to the most in-demand creative talent, wherever it is in the world, and a keystone incentive to keep production flowing. Free riders, in this case the businesses who trade on the back of other providers’ networks and promote unlicensed content as a competitive advantage, only detract from that carefully constructed ecosystem.

An important point to note is that this is a battle against unfair business practices, not taking legal action against individual consumers who pursue their own viewing practices. John Fellet, CEO of Sky New Zealand, confirms this point, explaining that “this is a business-to-business issue; it’s about creating a fair playing field.”

When resellers are able to contribute little but gain a lot in terms of market share, it reduces the incentive for those providers with a major capital investment in the country, like Sky New Zealand and Telecom New Zealand, to continue bringing licensed programming from overseas and, more crucially, investing in home-grown creative talent. In that scenario the large American services like Netflix have an easier time dominating, even if they their revenue streams are diluted by geo-dodging, as they cut by far the biggest slice of the global pie.

In the long term this inhibits innovation and limits production diversity, which is exactly what customers want, and how free-riding resellers play on their trust to promote access to content that hasn’t been paid for.

Australia’s New Copyright Bill Promises Action Against “Flagrant” Piracy

English: Australian flag seen flying in Toowoo...

Australian flag flying in Toowoomba, Queensland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Australia is our location for the latest clampdown on content piracy, as the country’s government floats new legislation that would significantly expand the ability of rights holders to challenge sites that host their work without permission.

The Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Act 2015 proposes measures that would require carriers to block sites that are found to infringe on IP, or those who facilitate such infringement, with “flagrancy” or “disregard.” Such language clearly targets willful piracy, while offering a mechanism to flag infringement to services that are unwittingly being used to get around the law.

There has been some push back against the ability of plaintiffs to bring an unlimited number of blocking requests before the Australian courts to take action against them, but there are a number of checks and balances within the bill to ensure only legitimate complaints make it through.

First and foremost, the courts in which cases will be brought have significant room to interpret each claim on its own merits, or lack thereof. The legislation mentions “reasonable steps” in many sections, and grants judges the ability to “limit the duration of, or rescind or vary an injunction.” That provides a lot of space to send warnings, set expiration dates on penalties, and hear appeals based on improved behavior by infringing sites.

That last point is crucial, as a key part of intellectual property enforcement should be the ability for sites to realize their mistakes and rehabilitate to become legitimate content providers. As we’ve seen with the US Trade Representative’s “Most Notorious Markets” initiative, the mere act of flagging a site’s infringing activity can be enough to prompt a change. When attached to a court order and the threat of operations being curtailed, the law starts to give rights holders some legal bite, where in many cases they have only the bark of flagging piracy and hoping intermediaries will take care of the rest.

In Australia and around the world piracy really comes down to two camps, those who intentionally host infringing content for their own profit, and those who run a service that is abused by others to host said content. For the former, the examples of Megaupload and The Pirate Bay are the path that lies ahead, being pursued across the globe until illegal operations are shut down.

For those who lie in the more gray area of intermediary, there must be a process that raises the question of a piracy problem and requires the operation to act promptly to remedy it. Stamping out piracy on any platform, in Australia or hosted further afield, sets the stage for online carriers to run a completely legitimate service that operates on the right side of copyright law and attracts reliable investment on that basis.

When infringement is flagged but a service still opts to look the other way, or fight legal action, that’s where the line is crossed between being “unwitting,” and moves into the “flagrant” piracy that Australia’s new legislation will take aim at, should it pass into law. In that case, the number of block requests is of little concern.

What really matters is how any service accused of infringement makes its case, and how quickly it acts to remedy the piracy problem, if and when the court rules that one exists. Creators have neither the time, nor the inclination to spend filing for the removal of content from legitimate sites. For any situations where such examples slip through, it’s only right and proper that a trusted legal system be brought into play to dismiss the case.

Additional powers for creators to protect their intellectual property, balanced by the ability of a court to hear their complaints and judge them against the country’s legal framework. Beyond the usual scaremongering that occurs by those afraid of being caught with their hands in the cookie jar, such legislation should be welcomed with open arms by anyone who respects creativity and the intellectual property rights that come with it.