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.