Tag Archives: Piracy

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.

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.

 

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.

House of Cards Piracy Shows Why Legal Global Streaming Works

It’s a universal truth that where demand goes unsatisfied, piracy quickly follows. For the creative industries, there are high hopes that an equally predictable trend will unfold: where legal streaming services roll out, piracy quickly tails off.

It’s been a theme that characterized much of February for us, from the news that Norway, where streaming music services dominate, has seen a dramatic reduction in piracy, to the post-Oscars analysis of where Academy Award winning titles are available and how piracy spikes if they’re not.

House of Cards piracy is the latest example to underline this phenomenon, as season 3 of the Netflix original series prompted a surge in social media and viewing activity in markets where the platform is active, and soaring piracy levels in countries where it isn’t.

 

Season 3 was only released last Friday, yet unlicensed viewing in countries around the world already numbers in the six figures, with China heading the illegal access list at more then 60,000 downloads. That doesn’t begin to factor in a number of other methods of finding the program without paying for the privilege, as technology like VPN access helps viewers to bypass geographical restrictions and log in to the same version of Netflix made available to U.S. consumers.

Although there is also illegal access in countries where Netflix does operate successfully, not least the U.S. and United Kingdom, the general consensus is that any market will have some amount of residual piracy.

While that element needs to be tackled with more familiar education and enforcement tactics, promoting legal access channels and penalizing where pirates knowingly disregard them, the most promising new prong in fighting copyright infringement is rolling out legitimate streaming services in markets where they don’t currently operate.

In the case of House of Cards this would of course be Netflix, first and foremost, although it isn’t hard to imagine a scenario in which the company licenses such a popular title to another service if it can’t get into the market itself. China springs to mind in the first instance, given the censorship issues and other red tape for American companies operating in the country, but there are enough other international markets in which Netflix isn’t being compensated at all for its hit production and would surely love to bridge the gap with licensing income.

Continent of Australia from space. Australia i...

Continent of Australia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Meanwhile it’s Australia that provides the most immediate case study of how introducing a legal viewing alternative will impact piracy levels. Frequently found atop the illegal viewing figures despite its relatively small consumer base, the country saw House of Cards piracy almost on a par with China.

Here, however, Netflix seems all set to launch this month, giving consumers almost no time to wait for the popular title and everything else that the company’s expansive archives will bring.

If Australians decide that convenience (and, we would hope, copyright) trump the awkward access of covert connections and malware-plagued piracy sites, then piracy levels should decline.  The experiment is ongoing, but the early results are promising that legitimate digital channels can connect viewers around the world to content they love, without having to resort to illicit and unreliable access points to get it.

 

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.

Has Norway Provided a Blueprint to Beat Piracy?

English: Map showing two of the common definit...

English: Map showing two of the common definitions of “Scandinavia”;  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scandinavia has been the leading light of streaming music services for many years, and now some believe it will provide the blueprint to beat music piracy for good. (Or at least make it a marginal issue.)

In the space of just five years, the number of Norwegians under 30 – the demographic most likely to engage in piracy – who admit to illegal file-sharing has dropped from 80% of respondents in 2009 to just 4 percent last year. These are levels that industry analysts say amounts to piracy being “virtually eliminated” in Norway.

The significant shift is inextricably linked to the rapid uptake of streaming services, which are now used by some 1.7 million Norwegians. The ease and convenience of platforms like Deezer and Spotify is credited with making illegal downloads a much less attractive activity, with similar stories seen across the border in Sweden (where Spotify first started).

Piracy in Scandinavia, it seems, is rapidly going out of style.

Of course there are various caveats to highlight, even against the backdrop of this overtly positive report.

Firstly, not everyone is inclined to tell the truth when faced with a survey. True, a large number of people were unafraid to admit to the practice back in 2009, but it’s also a long time to allow for a change in user attitudes, as well as behavior. A certain amount of the reduction might simply be that it’s less acceptable to admit to piracy in public now than it was five years ago. In the intervening period there have been major criminal cases against file-sharing sites like Megaupload, which was shut down by U.S. authorities in 2012, and more recently The Pirate Bay.

Such high-profile shutdowns could easily influence illegal downloaders to steer away from their bad habit or, at the very least, not admit that they do so when questioned by a stranger.

 

Another factor lies in the small sample size.

Norway has a population of only a little more than 5 million people, of which those under-30 translate to another small sub set. Although the target group is the most important to consider when it comes to online music consumption, the assumption that this relatively small group’s behavior would naturally extend to their counterparts in developed markets around the world is open to question.

Finally, the early results in other major markets don’t appear to stick to Norway’s blueprint. Even with a number of streaming music services now operating in the U.S. market, torrent activity remains a prime concern for anti-piracy groups, while file-sharing sites continue to see plenty of illegal content activity. The fact that most legitimate services have only been operating since 2011, and that North America is a much larger market, means that we must allow some additional room for the adoption rate to grow, but again the question mark remains over whether a majority of consumers will choose streaming as their music solution.

Even so, advocates of both streaming services and intellectual property protection will be hoping that the underlying expectation of the Norwegian model holds true for the rest of the world. If convenience really can kill piracy, the wheels are already in motion for Spotify and its peers to move major markets further down that road.

Asia-Pacific Piracy Poses a Familiar Foe for Rights Holders

In the West the copyright focus may be shifting to illegal streaming services like Popcorn Time, but in some parts of the world it’s still file sharing and illegal downloads that occupy anti-piracy activists.

A new report from Sandvine suggests that activity on these types of torrent and file sharing platforms can be as high as one-third  of ALL traffic in peak periods, causing concern for rights holders around the world. 

torrent progress

A torrent in action | Image Credit: nrkbeta

The region in question is Asia-Pacific, encompassing major markets like China, Indonesia, and South Korea. The Global Internet Phenomena report. The company’s summary findings state:

Filesharing is dead? Not in Asia: As a percentage of traffic, Filesharing traffic continues to decline globally in almost all regions except Asia-Pacific, where it still accounts for more than 33% of total traffic.

While the equivalent U.S. figure of 5% is still too high for the comfort of the creative industries, it represents a more manageable challenge against the wider ecosystem of content theft. Combining more contemporary measures of copyright infringement with this more familiar foe, however, prompts real cause for concern.

The value of emerging markets in the East is often held up as the future of entertainment income, particularly for American movie makers as they court increasingly wealthy Chinese audiences. But those efforts face significant challenges because of both stringent bureaucracy, as we reported earlier this month, and the kind of unchecked piracy that the Sandvine report highlights.

Whether or not governments in the Asia-Pacific are willing to crack down on file sharing activity remains to be seen. Their actions will play a major part in just how far Western creators are able to not only expand into these potentially lucrative markets, but also how effectively they can protect their intellectual property as they go.

 

The Kim Dotcom Saga Continues

Kim Dotcom appears to be back to his old tricks once again. The alleged media pirate kingpin and founder of digital filesharing site Megaupload is once again challenging U.S. jurisdiction over his finances. To set the stage, recall that Dotcom is being sued by Twentieth Century Fox, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Warner Brothers are suing Dotcom for US$100 million over alleged copyright infringement.

In addition to the civil charges, Kim Dotcom is currently facing U.S. criminal charges ranging from tax evasion to money laundering. The current dispute is over Dotcom’s frozen assets is taking place in New Zealand, where the Megaupload mogul sits awaiting extradition to the U.S. in his country mansion.

The larger picture raised by the Kim Dotcom case is the difficulty of pursuing legal actions, particularly in the civil context. In this case, we actually know who the defendant is and where he currently resides. That’s often the exception. In many piracy cases, it’s exceedingly difficult to track down who an offending site belongs to, much less where the alleged perpetrators can actually be found. Servers are frequently routed around the world, and quickly disappear into the Wild West of Eastern Europe where it’s difficult o track anything down.

For Kim Dotcom latest dispute is over a New Zealand high court ruling that Dotcom must file an affidavit revealing and detailing his financial assets worldwide. The plaintiffs in the copyright suit are concerned that the existing restraining order has not stopped Kim Dotcom from spending lavishly. The case is complex on jurisdictional grounds as the plaintiffs in a U.S. suit have petitioned a New Zealand court to rule against a plaintiff who has not submitted to U.S. jurisdiction.

There is certainly evidence that authorities have not reached all of Kim Dotcom’s assets. A case in point is Kim Dotcom’s funding of New Zealand’s failed Internet Party. It’s difficult to tell, from this vantage point, whether the quixotic founding and funding of the Internet Party was meant to be a true political statement, a prank or an opportunity to continue to party on a lavish scale (or some combination of all three). Kim Dotcom’s lawyers asserted that the plaintiffs were merely on a fishing expedition.

Russia Takes Aim at Media Pirates

stalingrad_posterRussia has set itself the goal of trying to rid itself of pirate sites. OK, maybe they’ll settle for just limiting them. That seems a very ambitious goal when you consider that Russia and the former Soviet republics have become the Wild West of nefarious online exploits.

Alexander Akopov, the head of Russia’s Russia’s film and television producers’ association has said that the existing laws will be toughened up by the end of the year. The Hollywood Reporter quotes Akopov as saying, “The idea is that the concepts of ‘blatant violation’ and ‘repeated violation’ are to be introduced, which would lead to immediately shutting down [pirate] web sites.”

Content rights owners are divided on how much of the responsibility for piracy, but are agreed that search engines should be tasked with playing more of an active role. Akipov said that the search engines were the “main pirates in the world.”

As an example of the success of the 2013 restrictions, regulators point to the success of removing last year’s hit “Stalingrad” from several pirate sites. That’s a promising start, but the real test will be whether Russian authorities will be as proactive in dealing with complaints lodged by non-Russian producers.

Some of the blame for piracy was put squarely on the Russian public. Russian film producer Sergei Selyanov derided many of the arguments used by pirate viewers as “childlike.” Akopov argued that Russians should stop “pretending that we are a poor country.” The comments were made during a forum at the St. Petersburg International Media Forum.

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