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.