Tag Archives: eu

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.

At Home and Across the Atlantic, Google’s Legal Woes Grow

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

Google Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Google is facing a tough road ahead, legally-speaking, as both US and European organizations line up to question the company’s practices. 

Both challenges revolve around antitrust charges; not a new allegation for Google, but certainly coming at the dominant search engine with more teeth this time around. The American case focuses more on media accusations that a non-investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which dates back to 2012, requires further scrutiny.

Across the Atlantic, Google faces increased criticism within the European Union (EU), with whom its relationship has always been tense at best.

The accusations in this case come from competitors based in Europe, who allege that their American rival uses its de facto monopoly on the search market to steer potential customers to its own products and web properties. When those properties are presented at the top of the search results by a company that dominates the European market to the tune of more than 90 percent, and competitors pushed down to positions that are rarely viewed, it raises questions as to the true neutrality of those results.

 

This is where the EU comes in, overseeing a case that could potentially cost Google some $66 billion if authorities rule against the company and opt to fine it the full 10 percent of profits that European rules allow. Even for one of the most cash-rich brands in the world, that’s an amount that will do some significant damage.

If it goes all the way the case will mark a new low for Google in Europe, after many years of trading blows with the area’s regulators at both national or regional level.

Earlier this year we reported on why Google chose to pull its news services in Spain, following a disagreement with the government and certain media outlets in the country over how it scrapes their sites for news content. Suspiciously, only a couple of months later, the country’s attempt to block prominent piracy site The Pirate Bay was scuppered in part by a Google-related workaround. Although there was support for Google from some sections of the European media, the general reputation of the company is consistently under fire in the region, whether over its tax avoidance in the United Kingdom or privacy concerns in Germany.

The news issue, for example, is predated by a wider tug of war with the EU over the company’s patchy approach to user privacy, and the controversial “Right to be Forgotten” law that came into effect in Europe last year. Some believe Google’s actions in Spain amount to heavy-handed tactics, intended to communicate Mountain View’s displeasure with increasingly tight regulation of its activity. When a company holds all the cards in a marketplace as large as the EU, though, it’s fair to assume that it should be held to a high standard.

However, as we see in the U.S. and with the dropped FTC investigation, Google is used to getting what it wants and playing by its own rules.

As in many cases where it is asked to do its fair share to curb illicit and fraudulent activity, Google complained about the burden of responsibility and trotted out some well-worn arguments about unnecessary regulations stifling innovation. Now those arguments ring rather hollow, given the widespread antitrust accusations leveled against the company at home and abroad.

In Europe, Google’s greedy appetite to hold on to every last percentage point of market dominance may prove to be its undoing. Competition is a close companion to innovation, so stifling the former is really little different to hindering the latter, which Google so often accuses others of doing. For that reason, privacy and intellectual property advocates in the Unites States will be watching the European example closely as this case unfolds.

 

Fleeing Authorities, Piracy’s Latest Poster Child Bounces Around the World

You may remember Popcorn Time, the initially innocent-looking app that gained attention (then notoriety) last year when the headlines labeled it “Netflix for Pirates.”

Although that early version proved short-lived thanks to prompt action from rights holders, the site morphed into several other unreliable incarnations in the months that followed, sparking concerns about malicious code and a bizarre turf war between different groups of developers.

After a winter break from the media spotlight, aside from a frank admission from Netflix itself that such piracy sites provide significant competition to its paid service,  Popcorn Time appears to be resurfacing in a traditional manner: finding new countries from which to operate, at least until the nearest available authorities catch up with its operators.

Currently that means Europe, specifically Sweden, which is something of an odd choice given the recent spate of raids on piracy server locations in that country. It’s also strange as the service has been removed on another occasion by EURid, the European Registry of Internet Domain Names, which should really send Popcorn Time’s operators running for further flung lands than Scandinavia.

If it followed the path of The Pirate Bay, for example, there would be stops at domain registrars in exotic locations like the Caribbean and South America. That course eventually led to the site being shut down anyway and its owners serving jail time, so perhaps nowhere in the world can truly be labeled a “safe harbor.” That, at least, is something for which rights holders can be grateful.

Popcorn Time Google results

For anyone who can recall the name of the service, Google makes it easy to put pirates back in business.

As usual, Google has a role to play in curbing this piracy. Unfortunately, and also as usual, it seems that the search giant will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to act against a site that flagrantly infringes the copyright of creators big and small.

As the search results to the right show, Google currently puts Popcorn Time at the very top of its search results, helping curious viewers to hurdle one of the barriers to entry. With the more common dot com domain removed, would-be pirates at least have to find a working address for the site before they can begin ripping off titles. Google solves that problem all too easily, and rumors that the app will also be available for download through the official Google Play store will only make the company look worse.

Somewhat amusingly, in that same Wired interview with the anonymous operator of Popcorn Time’s latest incarnation, a different parallel is drawn with the world’s largest search engine. The source, identified only by the name of the site’s mascot, makes the direct comparison between Google and his own service, saying:

“We’re like Google, scraping for new content all over the internet.”

–‘Pochoclin’ of Popcorn Time

While the analogy has some technical basis, it would be harsh to lump Google into the same piracy bag as Popcorn Time, which positions itself to directly undercut legitimate streaming services. Google certainly has its fair share of work – and then some – to do in the fight against piracy, but its business is search advertising, not actively searching for and promoting pirated content.

But even with that indirect distinction, the fact that Google so frequently presents piracy sites, and by doing so legitimizes them, when users perform a search is enough to put the company on the wrong side of the fight. Between YouTube, Android, and its eponymous search engine, it could be argued that Google does as much to facilitate piracy as it does to curb it.

However much running around the world authorities have to do to pursue and prohibit the likes of Popcorn Time, it’s important to remember we also have some major intellectual property battles to fight right here on home soil.

 

Spain Pushes Google’s Buttons Over News Content

Europe has long held a healthy concern about the power wielded by search giant Google. With more than 80% market share and increasingly influential in all areas of technology, from desktop to mobile, browser to cloud computing, the company has found opposition mounting around the European Union in various guises.

Now it’s the turn of Spain, but the country’s government appears to have gone too far with its attempt to squeeze Google over its News product.

The so-called “Google tax,” which was passed last week, intends to collect revenue from online news providers who aggregate headlines from Spanish media outlets. It goes into effect on January 1st, 2015, but Google chose to act preemptively to avoid charges and earlier today shut down its news item content from Spanish content providers.

The law has been widely criticized by journalists, especially in the technology sector, for being over prescriptive and getting its just desserts with Google pulling the plug on a product that provides valuable traffic to the country’s publications. That criticism largely fails to delve into the nuance of intellectual property, however, and present the other side of the argument that publishers should have a right to dictate how and when their content is used.

In some cases the news that Google presents may in itself stand as a piece of content, in which case it benefits the search engine but not the publication whose headlines it has pulled. Spain’s law does go too far in the other direction though, making payments mandatory and giving publishers no option to decide that they want to give away these snippets in exchange for the traffic that a search engine can send them.

For its part Google’s reasoning that it makes no money on news, while accurate in fact, seems somewhat disingenuous. Although its News section makes no revenue from ads directly, it’s certainly a factor that attracts users who go on to search the company’s other listings, building its brand and generating revenue on ad clicks in those paid sections. In that sense at least, Google is playing off the content of others – in this case snippets of their reports – in order to bring in the eyeballs that swell its allure for advertisers.

More than anything else this case demonstrates just how fine a line content creators now walk, in terms of monetizing what they create directly versus giving elements of it away for free in order to play the long game. For news sites that means traffic to sell its adverts or subscriptions for more. As that traffic is likely to dip substantially without Google in the weeks and months to come, it’s understandable why Spanish publishers are quickly backtracking on this attempt to push Google’s buttons.