Following on from the MPAA’s submission of international offenders who fail to respect American intellectual property to the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the office today released its annual list of “notorious markets,” designed to name and shame those included into cleaning up their act. As has become the norm, it provided relief for some, and throws down the gauntlet for others to up their efforts in the year ahead.
The idea is simple enough: flag organizations and online platforms who facilitate the unlicensed use of American intellectual property.
By putting these companies and sites on show for all to see, the USTR forces them to choose a path; either commit to improving the legality of their site by removing content and practices that infringe upon intellectual property rights, or confirm that they have no interest in respecting the law and expect the appropriate authorities to come calling.
Marking the importance of protecting those IP rights, the office’s Ambassador Michael Froman had this to say about the 2014 out-of-cycle report:
“American innovation fuels our economy. Intellectual property protects the contributions and livelihoods of the 40 million Americans whose jobs are supported by intellectual property-intensive and associated industries. The theft we’re shining a light on today is detrimental not only to creators and inventors, but also to consumers.”
The report singled out entities like Spain’s seriesyonkis.com, China’s Xunlei, and software provider Aiseesoft for their positive progress on curbing infringing content on their respective platforms, since appearing on the list’s 2013 edition.
Providing these positive results is an important element to the report, placed prominently at the front as an example to those who find themselves on the notorious list further in. A prominent example held up by the press is Alibaba, whose subsidiary Taobao facilitated counterfeit operations around the time the Notorious Markets list came into existence. Since then Alibaba has made significant efforts to clean house and went on to make a record debut on the New York Stock Exchange last year.
On the other side of the coin, companies that didn’t make it off the offender’s list must redouble their efforts. The gap between expectation and reality can sometimes be wide, however, as demonstrated in the case of VKontakte. The Russian social network remains on the list despite appealing its presence after it took steps to curb pirated content sharing. But as we discussed in February, VKontakte has made only limited attempts to deal with this illegal activity, and it will evidently take much more for it to reach legitimacy in the eyes of U.S. rights holders.
In the end, legitimacy is exactly what the Notorious Markets list is all about. It recognizes that the copyright economy is worth more than $1 trillion to the United States and a major provider of jobs around the country, and presents those that undermine that value for all to see.
If an organization that appears on the list has no interest in becoming a legitimate business in the eyes of the law, they will of course continue on their path of piracy, in which case more substantial legal power needs to be wielded to remove that threat.
For those who value their business credibility, however, the USTR is simply showing some tough love. Clean up your act, prove your commitment to valuing intellectual property, and next year perhaps your company can be held us as a positive example to follow, rather than an offender to avoid.