Tag Archives: Copyright infringement

Kim Dotcom Circles the Drain (But Still Has More Than He Deserves)

It’s goodbye grand mansion and hello to plain old penthouse living for Kim Dotcom, the piracy magnate of Megaupload infamy, who is currently holed up in New Zealand.

On the run from US authorities since his piracy site was shuttered in 2012, times are clearly getting tough for the self-styled “online entrepreneur,” as he fights extradition to face charges in the United States and racks up legal costs believed to be in the millions of dollars. That makes the $1 million a year mansion near Auckland an unjustifiable expense, evidently, although it would be fair to say that any luxury is unjustifiable for a man who made his fortune by exploiting original works without the permission of their creators.

For those misdeeds, Kim Dotcom’s day of reckoning seems to be much closer as we close the year than it did when 2015 began.

Back in September, Dotcom attended an extradition hearing in Auckland that  accused him and his site of “simple fraud,” making millions of dollars by ignoring copyright and Megaupload’s responsibility to compensate creators for the intellectual property shared via the company’s servers.

Worse still, Dotcom and his cohorts encouraged this behavior by rewarding those who shared the most content, putting the site high on the FBI’s piracy hit list.

At September’s hearing, the court heard from US authorities that Megaupload had paid out more than $3 million in such rewards, driving even higher levels of copyright infringement on a global scale.  One user alone made $50,000 over a five year period, demonstrating just how long Dotcom was able to profit from his illegal online venture before finally being shut down in 2012.

Now, his chickens are coming home to roost.

It has taken another three years to reach this point thanks to the self-imposed exile in New Zealand. Nonetheless, it shows that there really is no hiding place for those who engage in piracy, particularly when it’s on a commercial scale. It is not a legitimate business, those who run such sites are not entrepreneurs, and any ill-gotten gains will eventually be reclaimed in damages.

So spare a thought for poor old Kim as we approach the holiday season, but don’t make it a sympathetic one. Firstly, we hope that the creators will soon see justice done in 2016 and have Kim Dotcom answer for his exploitation of their work.

And, in the true spirit of giving, let’s hope that the authorities in Auckland see fit to offer the U.S. a gift and hand him over for the holidays. A late present is certainly better than never receiving one (unless your name is Kim, of course!)

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.

 

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.

Does ICANN Hold the Key to International IP Protection?

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, is a not-for-profit organization based in California, but charged with activities of global importance.

Plaque on the ICANN (Internet Corporation for ...

Plaque on the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) head office, Del Rey, California, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With a remit to preserve the operational stability of the Internet and provide appropriate representation for the international Internet community, developing policies that reflect this broad mission.

If that scope sounds wide, it should. ICANN holds a great deal of responsibility, on a technical level especially, operating servers that underpin Internet standards and managing major developments, such as the recent roll out of new top level domains around the world (why you’re seeing New York firms jump the .com ship for .nyc domain, and many artists adopting a .music address).

Indeed, what ICANN should and should not be involved with is an ongoing debate, as evidenced by recent concerns over its ability to cut off domains facilitating copyright infringement and other fraudulent activity.

Letters from the MPAA and RIAA asking ICANN to do more were last month labeled as requests for the organization to start “policing the Internet.” Again, this is a huge overstatement, designed to instill fear in the general public that studios and record labels are out to get them.

But this is a general request to bring ICANN on the side of creators and help to protect their rights. The organizations that represent them have simply asked that ICANN react to the “use of domain names for illegal and abusive activities, including those related to IP infringement.”  Essentially, this is a request to enforce laws that already exist and leverage their position to do more across international boundaries, where individual nations can run into bureaucratic barriers, depending on which other the country is home to the site infringing upon IP.

There is no concrete action in place, but the ultimate threat of taking a pirate or fraudulent domain should be a real one, albeit used . This is a move to align the ability of creators to protect their work by flagging infringement wherever it happens in the world and taking steps to remove it, not to arbitrarily take offline any site that is accused of piracy.

Basically, creators are asking that they be allowed to raise the red flag to ICANN for closer review, not push the red button on any site they flag.

 

 

Parallels to the Advertising Industry

There are plenty of scare tactics employed by open Internet activists when it comes to measures designed to curb copyright infringement. The ability to remove a site from global access is of course a significant power, but it’s important to remember why this occurs in the first place: these sites are stealing content for their own profit.

In cases like The Pirate Bay, the aim is so clear it’s in the name, so perhaps the public is less tolerant of overt piracy. When the lines are blurred by a mixture of seemingly legitimate business and hosted files that infringe copyright, however, there is a tendency to claim that those who own the rights to that intellectual property are overstepping the mark.

The reality is that any instance in which an online business claims legitimacy, yet hosts a large amount of content without permission from the owner, that business has a responsibility to police its own servers. If they neglect that responsibility, or simply choose to ignore copyright claims, the only recourse of IP owners in any country is to threaten to cut them off. As an entity with global reach to that end, ICANN is a logical organization to work alongside rights holders to make infringing sites aware that their online status is at risk.

There should certainly be a review process for any site that ICANN is asked to remove from its registry, and parallels can be found in the advertising industry, which just introduced a new anti-piracy and anti-fraud initiative with broad support.  

In this system, sites that host advertising are subject to various tests of legitimacy by an independent consulting body, before receiving a risk score that empowers advertisers to cut them out of their ad network selection. Cutting off this source of income from big brands is a real enough threat that any legitimate site worth its salt will work to clean up its act and request a review of its risk status. Meanwhile, the illegitimate sites that have no business model outside of ripping off original creative works will see a crucial source of revenue dry up.

There is no panacea to cure piracy on a global level, but it can certainly be curbed from sites that occupy the middle ground and simply need a nudge in the right direction. This works in some cases for the US Trade Representative office, as we noted in the case of its “Notorious Markets” name and shame report, and it will take organizations with global reach to effect similar

These initiatives need not be draconian, as so many activists automatically try to imply, but they must have sufficient teeth to spur infringing sites into action. ICANN is one intermediary that has the bite to help creators protect their work, while first using its bark to warn sites that are on its complaint list, giving them an opportunity to turn things around.

Around the World, The Oscars Bring Out Piracy In All Its Forms

The Academy Awards is the crowning jewel in the movie industry’s celebration of creativity; the peak intersection of critical acclaim and mainstream recognition, if the winners haven’t already made waves with the masses.

Every year as the Oscars roll around, however, there’s also the shadow of piracy. As much as a win – or even a nomination – gives each film a boost on the international stage, it also prompts a spike in activity on sites notorious for their copyright infringement.

 

The phenomenon represents all that is wrong with the mentality of piracy, as well as showing copyright infringement in all of its forms around the world.

In the United States we’ve become used to the year’s piracy being communicated in terms of illegal downloads. Popular shows like Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory inevitably top the list of TV shows, while the year’s biggest box office titles show up with the same reliable frequency. The same contemporary measure and methods apply to The Oscars, where American Sniper headed the list of most downloaded movie in the run up to the awards show. Best Picture winner Birdman can expect to soar up that list in the weeks to come.

Further afield, where connections are less reliable and online access may be limited, more tangible forms of piracy persist. 

A report in the Tico Times explains how Costa Rica sees illegal copies of all the Oscar nominees spread onto the streets and into stores as fever peaks for the awards ceremony. From Birdman to Boyhood, Selma to American Sniper, all of the titles that should be gaining revenue as well as recognition for their varied creative talents are brazenly sold as bootleg DVDs.

This occurs not just on the streets, but in stores alongside other legitimate merchandise, some even with discounts for buying in bulk, making piracy as habitual as running to the grocery store for milk and bread.

Back to the original point, and the study that revealed the Oscars spike in piracy rates confirms just how global is this concern. The research by Irdeto finds Academy Award nominees and winners prompting rises in illegal viewing in all corners of the globe, with the top ten offenders including Brazil,  India, Australia, South Korea and several European nations.

Rory O’Connor, VP of Services at Irdeto confirms: “Our data clearly shows that the rest of the world is paying attention to the Academy Awards and there is significant demand for new movies… leaving room for pirates to take advantage. ”

The challenge for creators and the movie industry is to beat the pirates at their own game, getting out in front of passionate movie fans around the world and reminding them that the best way to support even more creativity in future is to pay for the films they love and the music they enjoy.

Making titles available in good time and educating viewers about release schedules is an important part of this puzzle, as is the ability of viewers to make a moral decision that piracy is an act that only undermines the very thing that draws them to Oscar winners in the first place: a desire to create visual stories that excite the senses and compel repeat viewing.

 

 

A Glimmer of Hope in a Bleak Russian Music Market

Russia isn’t normally the first international location from which we expect positive news on copyright protection, so when it comes we’ll take it in almost any form.

Logo vkontakte.ru

Logo vkontakte.ru (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The positive in this instance is that the news involves VKontakte, the country’s largest social network and one that has come under substantial scrutiny from rights holders in other countries for its lax approach to preventing copyright infringement.

The negative is that the site is taking only the slightest steps towards rehabilitating its reputation, removing just one option that iPad and iPhone owners can use to access unlicensed content for free. The streaming function on the site allows any audio uploaded by users, including music that should be protected by copyright law, to be accessed across any device on which VKontakte is available.

Those Apple devices are now eliminated from that list, but it still leaves Android, Windows Phone, and any other computing device from which Russian citizens can log in to their main social network. That’s a lot of places they can still support pirated content, and not the most convincing move if VKontakte is trying to get in the good books of foreign rights holders.

The case itself is a microcosm of the wider piracy picture in Russia, where nods have been made to stricter copyright protection by the government but piracy remains a prominent activity.

As we reported late last year, the country made it onto the MPAA’s list of the world’s most notorious markets in terms of copyright infringement, and the International Intellectual Property Alliance has Russia blacklisted for similar reasons.

 

Vkontakte plays a large part in the country’s ongoing status as a rogue nation when it comes to piracy, providing a mainstream platform that presents content for free, without repercussions . If Facebook did the same thing in the U.S. it would be unthinkable, and we could only imagine the swift legal action that would bring a site of even that size to take swift action. To find a silver lining, though, we can at least say that VKontakte – and Russia as a whole – is slowly starting to move in the right direction.

Interestingly enough, the real motivation to become a legal player in a market that currently relies on piracy for its music and entertainment consumption, could lie just a fewborders to the west. In Scandinavia, the popularity of Spotify and other streaming services has coincided with a dramatic drop in piracy rates. Although it is early days for streaming, that success does seem to be slowly resonating in other markets around the world, pushing piracy to the sidelines in the wake of legal services that provide free and near-free access to unlimited music.

Flag of Russia

Flag of Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, with Spotify eyeing the Russian market to the point of an eleventh hour decision to cancel its planned launch early this year, other services may see the potential to profit, even where piracy rules.

Spotify’s hesitance seems to be based on concerns for Russia’s economic stability and other regional concerns, but VKontakte already has stakes in that game and will play whether or not it looks to streaming music as a source of revenue.

Rumors abound that the company, owned by Mail Ru Group, has been in negotiations with major music labels in the U.S., which points to a plan rooted in more legitimate content distribution.

So even though the news is only lukewarm for the moment, the potential for legitimate streaming services to rush in and wash away piracy in one of the world’s most notorious markets for unlicensed content is much more encouraging.

Europe’s Safer Internet Day Casts a Broad Net Online

Yesterday marked the 11th annual Safer Internet Day, an initiative introduced by the European Commission back in 2004 to promote “a better Internet.”

Emphasizing more responsible use of online and mobile technology, especially among younger generations, the event enters its second decade in a significantly different tech world than existed at its inception. Faster connections and the rapid adoption of mobile devices means that far more people around the world are now connected and spending more time online than ever before.

Safer Internet Day

Against that unrelenting march of technology, the European Commission has continued to promote activities around SID and broaden the initiative’s appeal around the world.

 

A Broad Net for Online Safety

With its focus on young people and the way they interact with technology, the European Commission clearly sees early education as the most effective way to encourage better behavior online.

Covering everything from respect for others and understanding online dangers to malware and ID theft, the initiative quickly spread around the world thanks to activities like the SID blogathon and universal media interest in the subject. Even complex, constantly morphing challenges like illicit sites and the fraudulent tactics they use to make money fall within the remit of creating a better and safer Internet, though such issues will undoubtedly require more than isolated awareness programs to significantly reduce their threat.

Trustworthy Accountability Group logoCoincidentally, Safer Internet Day aligned with the announcement of a major initiative against malware and fraudulent online advertising in the United States.

The TAG program, entitled the Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy, takes aim at one of the major concerns for brand advertisers and content creators alike: the funding of sites that engage in copyright infringement  by advertising networks unable to control where their ad inventory ends up.

Although it might seem like the world’s biggest brands should have the resources to control exactly where their ads appear and, accordingly, which sites they support, the reality is that online advertising has been something of a crapshoot until now. Advertisers buy up space across broad networks that place their messages on a variety of sites, many perfectly legitimate but some with less honest business models. The latter often involves making content available without its creator’s approval, in a bid to attract users whose pageviews make the site money via the adverts.

Clearly, this is no good for either the brands, who want to maintain a trustworthy reputation, or the creators whose work is being taken as bait by such sites. Where Safer Internet Day intersects with this issue is the types of ads being displayed and the potential dangers that they can transmit. If it’s reputable brands being displayed by the rogue site, the user may feel more comfortable using it even though its content is fraudulently obtained. If that increased trust results in a click, not only does the site benefit from extra ad revenue, the user could easily be railroaded into downloading malware that damages their device, or adware that tracks their online activity for future ad delivery.

In either case, this is validation of piracy and privacy invasions by unintentional association. 

Even when household name brands aren’t involved, the content of the ads placed can be questionable, such as those that promote gambling or pornography, which clearly aligns with the European Commission’s goal to educate users about the dangers such sites pose.

Between the EC’s awareness drive and the U.S. ad industry’s new commitment to weed out , Safer Internet Day in 2015 becomes a rallying point for anyone seeking to improve the online experience of consumers and creators alike.

TPP Trade Negotiations Re-open in Australia

The latest round of talks to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership began in Canberra, Australia yesterday, bringing the twelve participating nations back together to discuss wide-ranging trade issues.

The negotiations will have a significant impact on how the major nations handle intellectual property rights, among other things, and an early leak of the copyright proposals has stoked online opinion, even before any clear consensus has been reached by participants.

Canberra Australia

Canberra Parliament | Image Credit: Brenden Ashton

 

The provisions include a standard copyright term, generally mooted as life of the creator plus somewhere between 50-100 years, measures to prevent getting around Digital Rights Management systems designed to prevent piracy, and a form of penalizing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for illegal access that occurs through the connections they run.

On the latter point participating nations are being particularly careful. Despite feeling that ISPs have a supporting role to play in enforcing intellectual property law, the tendency towards draconian measures such as long term disconnections and jail time has long since passed. The desire now, as indicated by Australia’s attempts to put cost limits in place and the wider desire for some form of intermediary “safe harbor,” is to bring ISPs more effectively into the fight for copyright protection. This is something that their business depends on, given how much content is consumed online and the increasing popularity of streaming music and movies.

As early drafts of the proposal confirm, the end game here is to create “remedies for rights holders to address copyright infringement in the online environment.” This has to be a good thing for creative rights, but it hasn’t been a smooth ride for the TPP so far.

Even with opposition to the way the negotiations are being held behind closed doors (not at all irregular for early draft international treaties) and the concern that any legislation will overreach (though individual nations will still be responsible for how they integrate any requirements into their own legal systems), the outcome of the TPP should accomplish a long overlooked goal: to help creators take control of their intellectual property rights beyond their own borders.

 

More Countries Pursue Anti-Piracy Education

The British government is coming under increased pressure to pursue a multi-pronged approach to copyright infringement. That’s the finding of MP Mike Weatherley, the man tasked by Prime Minister David Cameron with finding more effective ways to protect intellectual property (IP) in the United Kingdom.

Pulling no punches as to the importance of early education when it comes to copyright law and the need to both understand and respect creative rights, Weatherley states in his report that:

“The school curriculum needs to prepare pupils – from early years through to the end of secondary school and higher education – for the 21st century knowledge economy.”

If pursued by the country’s Prime Minister, the initiative would see new training for educational professionals on the legal side of IP, as well as a slew of resources like online tool kits and classroom materials to support the underlying message of any additions to the curriculum.

Education has become an increasingly important counterpoint to broader anti-piracy strategy. Where site shutdowns and political lobbying form the main drive of copyright activists, public education is the quieter follow up, a reminder that laws exist for a reason and legal alternatives to piracy are readily accessible.

The UK is just the latest country to pursue a deeper angle on piracy education. Following a concerning study showing that 7 in 10 people in Singapore engage in illegal downloading, the country moved quickly to explore not only blocking illegal sites, but rolling out information campaigns to steer new generations away from piracy. This was around the same time that the influential Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) backed an anti-piracy curriculum module called “Be a Creator,” aimed at promoting IP rights in the classroom and keeping children from the clutches of illegal activity here in the U.S.

Education is only one facet of the fight against piracy, but it’s ever-more important on a global scale. Countries around the world are quickly realizing that punishment is one thing, but when it comes to curbing illegal activity for a whole new generation, helping children to understand the value of copyright and the property of creators is something best achieved with early and subtle intervention.