Archive for the ‘sopa’ tag

Paramount Pictures Speaks to Michigan Law Students about Online Piracy, Cyberlockers

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Last month, copyright students at Michigan Law were able to engage in a Q&A after a presentation from Alfred Perry, the VP of Worldwide Content Protection at Paramount Pictures. The topic? SOPA, PIPA, and the legal issues that surround file-sharing websites, like the recently indicted Megaupload. Many students were eager to engage in a discussion with a representative of the movie industry, especially given the current debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act, and the possibility of future copyright legislation that would address online infringement. As a copyright student myself, I was anxious to hear what a representative of a company that advocates and supports these recent legislative initiatives had to say. During the presentation, I was most impressed by the emphasis that was put on the problem with cyberlockers- online file storage providers. While they have completely legitimate uses such as storing documents, and sharing files, some users post pirated content of movies or TV shows. It seems that major media companies are targeting these sites- Mr. Perry said that "We continue to make criminal referrals." Paramount Pictures stated that their content is not being protected adequately by the current laws. However, these cyberlockers are bound by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and are obligated to take down infringing content when given notice that it has been posted. During the presentation, five cyberlockers were identified as "rogue" sites- Fileserve, MediaFire, Wupload, Putlocker, and Depositfiles. In a later email, Mr. Perry explained that "My use of the term 'rogue' was meant to designate those cyberlockers which would fall within the definition of a foreign infringing site." However, MediaFire is a cyberlocker that is located in Texas.  They recently released a press release that addressed these claims. The owner, Tom Landridge said  "MediaFire continues to cooperate fully with the MPAA, RIAA, and various other organizations who work to identify and prohibit the distribution of copyrighted content. We have a variety of advanced automated systems designed to detect violations of our Terms of Service and automatically warn and terminate users." It appears that the war between media companies and cyberlockers is only just beginning. Although it is apparent that studios do not like these companies, there doesn't seem to be a ready solution. Cyberlockers provide a legitimate service, used by many for legitimate purposes. The recent firestorm has caused two sites- Wupload and FireServe to become backup sites, disabling all fire-sharing to avoid the risk of criminal prosecution. While media companies might rejoice, I believe this points to a bigger problem- the media industry business model. Mr. Perry in an e-mail to me, stated "Looking forward, why would anyone invest in an innovative new distribution service if they believed that there would be no legal protection for their fantastic new platform, forcing it to compete with rogue sites that pirate all of their product?". However, this belies the point that these cyberlockers are innovative- it is the reason they receive 41 billion page views a year. While there is no easy solution, and stolen content is a problem, it might be in the best interest of both cyberlockers and the entertainment industry to work together moving forward- sparing cyberlockers the fear of criminal prosecution, and innovating the media distribution business model.

Not your Average Super Bowl Party: Immigration and Customs Enforcement Cracks Down on Street Vendors and Internet Streamers

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In the days leading up to the Super Bowl the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized $4.86 million worth of counterfeit merchandise and 307 websites. 291 of those sites were engaged in selling counterfeits, and the other 16 were set to stream the big game without NFL permission. Most people see the seizure of counterfeit NFL gear as a fair move, but in the midst of SOPA, PIPA, Megaupload, and a myriad of other online piracy and privacy issues, the seizure of the streaming sites has caused quite a stir. ICE Director John Morton stated that the goal of the seizures is "defeating the international counterfeiting rings that illegally profit off of this event, the NFL, its players and sports fans," but critics aren't buying it. Of the 16 sites shut down for illegally broadcasting sporting events, 9 of them were being operated right here in Michigan by a single person. US Attorney Preet Bharara, tasked with prosecuting the Michigan man, stated that "[s]ports fans may be tempted by illegal streaming websites, but in the end, it is they who pay the price" as piracy causes the prices of tickets and memorabilia to rise. Critics are, again, unswayed. In two full years of operation illegally broadcasting NFL, NBA, MLB, WWE, and other events, those nine sites only yielded an alleged grand total of $13,000 in profits for their Michigan proprietor. The NFL makes about $4 million for the TV rights to the Super Bowl alone. Many are finding it hard to believe that illegal streams of Super Bowl footage are really forcing the NFL to hike ticket prices to make ends meet without that extra bit. The NFL certainly has a right to reap the rewards of its endeavors. If it wants to quibble over what essentially amounts to loose change, that's its prerogative. Indeed, a lot of the noise would probably quiet down if it was the NFL who was pursuing illegal streamers. When a United States agency tasked with protecting the country's borders and stopping pedophilic child molesters starts using its resources to make sure that the NFL is getting that last 0.01% of profit out of its efforts, however, the public attitude gets a little dicey. Regardless of who's making what from the Super Bowl, government approval ratings are at an all time low - maybe now is not the best time to take away football and beer.    

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February 12th, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Free Speech Online is No LOL Matter to the American Public

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The people have spoken—and the people want their digital freedom! As the 112th Congress found out just last week, the prospect of the federal government infringing on the open and free Internet has been both politically tumultuous as well as philosophically unpopular in the eyes of the American Public.

Currently, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act governs copyright infringement activities which take place on the Internet. Yet, there was a growing sense among some in the entertainment industry--and in Congress--that this Act was not doing enough to protect IP rights. So, lawmakers responding to pressures from the entertainment industry devised a new bill to combat online piracy, developed two broadly worded anti-piracy bills--the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). The move pitted Hollywood and its woes over unauthorized downloading, against Silicon Valley techies who claim that "the legislation would hand the government Orwellian powers over the Internet." However, just recently certain lawmakers--including the bill's co-sponsor Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida--withdrew their support. Even the White House came out publicly against SOPA.

A key impetus to the sudden turn in popularity for the bills came from a staged anti-SOPA protest on January 18th from Internet sites such as Google, Wikipedia, and Craigslist.com. Wikipedia, for example, "went dark" and shut down completely. The site's co-founder, Jimmy Wales explained his concern in a recent CNN interview over the broad language in the bill, citing apprehension over the unprecedented amount of power the bill would give the government to take over the Internet and its content--Wikipedia and similar sites would struggle to function under the effects of SOPA due to the sheer number of links they would be required to check when posting content. Wales also affirmed his belief that "when it comes to First Amendment concerns, censoring the Internet is never going to be the right answer."

For now, Congress has put further debate on these bills on-hold, although it is clear that the fight is far from over. On January 21st the FBI shut down the file-sharing website Megaupload as part of what seems to be the federal government's theme for 2012: taking a hard anti-piracy stance. The debate also touches upon the existential question of whether Internet access is a basic human right or whether it is simply a vital tool which our society has obligations to guard against potential abuse in the face of an increasingly interconnected world.

For now, we can just remain thankful that the government has backed down and we are still able to catch up on missed episodes of Glee on various Megaupload-like sites--even if they have Japanese subtitles.

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February 4th, 2012 at 6:16 pm

“we’re not pirates, we’re just providing shipping services to pirates :)”

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These were the words written in an email by Mathias Ortmann to Bram Van Der Kolk.  Who, you might ask?  Ortmann and Van Der Kolk are two of the recently indicted parties to the Megaupload conspiracy, and this email was publicized in the indictment.  You know, that thing that happened on January 19th, the day after the tech world celebrated the shelving of SOPA and PIPA.  Megaupload was what is known as a “cyberlocker,” a file hosting service, to which individuals can upload files, and through sharing the URLs of the given files, can allow others to access them.  In theory and in practice, many of these sites, including Megaupload itself, are used by people who need to share such large files for their own legal purposes.  (No really, trust them, they even made sure to reconfirm this legitimate purpose for the world a few months ago through a catchy YouTube video. Featuring celebrities!)  However, as the Mega indictment papers make clear, the gentlemen running Mega were very aware, if not brazenly encouraging, the use of their site and its petabytes’ worth of storage space to share copyrighted material.  They at times exchanged emails discussing how to make their customers’ viewing experiences of television shows such as “Dexter” more seamless.  Part of the indictment even mentions the founders themselves sharing such American film classics as “Meet Dave.”  In fact, as the indictment shows, the Mega conspirators apparently reposted YouTube videos to their sites just to increase their percentage of copyright-free material. When it was shut down, Megaupload was the 70th most trafficked site on the internet, according to Alexa.  The Alexa list is populated at its top by sites the likes of which must of the world depends on for daily internet use, for better or for worse; Google, Facebook, Youtube, and Yahoo! are the top four sites on its list.  However, further down the list, peppered amid the countless other manifestations of Google, are cyberlockers, Bittorrent trackers, and free pornography websites.  Does this mass use suggest a serious absence of morality in modern society?  Or is it more a reflection of just how easy it is to break the law these days? Back in the good ole days of piracy, pirates were adventurous individuals, sailing the high seas for adventure, debauchery, and a bit of terror (or at least this is what Disney movies that I definitely watched legally taught me).  They knew where the line between good and evil lay drawn, and they very consciously crossed that line.  Nowadays, people can commit a felonious act of piracy without even knowing it from the comforts of their living rooms.  Most people who download copyrighted material are aware of having done so.  They just don’t think much of it.  So how is it that we have come to a point where felonies have become passive acts?  Is the law not meant to keep up with morality?  At a point in history when the Supreme Court rules that Congress can remove works from the public domain so big media companies can copyright old foreign works, including those of Stravinsky and H.G. Wells (see the recently-decided Golan v. Holder decision), what is left for the average American citizen?  As Justice Breyer asks in his dissent in Golan, if the original purposes of copyright laws suggested furthering the arts, why does it only seem that copyright law prevents their distribution? As the Mega indictment papers indicate, in the end it seems that nobody would ever get indicted over copyright infringement in this country if they do not make money through it.  The Mega conspirators brazenly flaunted the law, made a few hundreds of millions of dollars, and then the law took offense.  The case against Megaupload appears very sound, given how sloppy the conspirators were in violating black letter law.  But their mistake wasn’t taking copyrighted intellectual property.  It was in making money through doing so.  After all, when providing shipping to pirates is more lucrative than piracy itself, it’s going to catch someone’s attention. The Mega conspirators will get to have their days in court.  Perhaps then, founder Kim Dotcom (no, not his given name) can finally have his day to expose the criminal activity of his former competitors, and bring them to justice, as he once told PayPal he intended to do.  (See Mega Indictment, Count II ¶ uuuu.)  Can a man who makes such a gesture to bring down the criminal activity of others really be such a bad guy?

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February 1st, 2012 at 4:33 pm

When in Doubt, Force Someone Else to do it: A Quick Look at Spain’s New Sinde Law.

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While the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) lumbers its way through the American legislature, a remarkably similar act has found its way into legitimate law on the other side of the pond. Just in case no little chickens have been by to tell you that the internet's sky-high potential for the free expression of ideas is about to come crashing down, SOPA is an anti-internet piracy bill. Introduced in late October of last year, the bill would allow the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and copyright holders to seek injunctions against sites containing allegedly infringing material. As law, the bill would empower courts to halt services essential to website survival. Infringing sites could be cut off from advertising payoffs, links on search engines, and internet service providers could even be ordered block users from accessing the site. Familiar internet goliaths such as Google, YouTube, Twitter, and others are crying out that passing the SOPA will destroy the internet as we know it. Pretty soon there will be solid evidence of whether or not these claims hold water. Spain recently passed the Sinde law which is, while not an exact replica, essentially a Spanish SOPA. What makes the Sinde law interesting, however, is not just its similarity to the SOPA, it's also that America appears to have bullied Spain into passing the law. According to Spanish newspaper El Pais (you'll need a translator if you don't speak the native tongue - or you can just read The Guardian's account), a letter from US Ambassador Alan Solomont to the Spanish Prime Minister indicated that the US would frown upon a Spanish failure to pass the piracy law. Reminding Spain of its status on the Special 301 Report - a list of countries deemed to have sub-par internet piracy protections - the ambassador warned that a "downgrade" from there could be disastrous. Joining that group, in the ambassador's words, of "the worst violators of global intellectual property rights" would subject Spain to "retaliation actions" including disintegration of tariff agreements and a WTO referral. Regardless of any nefarious behind-the-scenes letters, it will be interesting to see how the Sinde Law changes the face of the internet in Spain. Given the speed at which the American Congress moves, we might get to see some of the long-term effects of SOPA-like censorship before we have to worry about the any sky shattering legislation passing stateside.

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January 25th, 2012 at 1:21 pm

Not Just China and India: ITU Reports Growing Access to Telecom in Developing World

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The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has released a snapshot of worldwide access to telecommunications in 2011.  A full third of the global population now has internet access, up from only eighteen percent five years ago.  Furthermore, the developing world now houses the majority of internet users, with broadband access increasing as well.  More remarkably, a majority of developing world internet users now reside outside of India and China. This growth in access has profound consequences.  Much of the international focus on internet piracy and intellectual property issues has centered on countries like China and India.  While these states remain important players in piracy, the growth in other developing country access multiplies opportunities for internet piracy. While Congress debates SOPA, and while country specific efforts in India and China attempt to limit internet piracy, the global proliferation of internet access at broadband speeds may necessitate a multilateral approach to combat internet piracy.  Whether or not the international community can reach consensus on a unified approach to internet piracy, however, remains to be seen.

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January 11th, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Opposition to SOPA Gaining Momentum

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The Stop Online Piracy Act (along with the Senate version known as the Protect IP Act), introduced last month in the House by Representative Lamar Smith, aims to level a significant blow against offshore "rogue sites" that host copyright material. SOPA would allow the U.S. attorney general to obtain a court order against these sites and serve the relevant ISP to take down the site. Furthermore, the Act would allow the DOJ and copyright owners to seek court orders blocking payments to these sites from online ad networks and payment processors. The bill, however, has been the target of harsh criticism from lawmakers and industry titans alike. The principle arguments against the Act is that it is detrimental to the economy and impinges on free speech. Indeed, the bill's detractors point out that it "strikes at the very core of the internet" by introducing a walled garden ecosystem of censorship that sacrifices openness and innocent user-generated content for the whims of Hollywood. However, not even all of Hollywood is united in its effort to pass the bill -- even international pop sensation Justin Bieber has offered his own two-cents, calling for Senator Amy Kloubchar (a sponsor of the Senate version) to be "locked up [and] put away in cuffs…"  The bill's aim is to crack down on intellectual property infringement, but it has been lambasted for its overaggressiveness (as a disproportionate response to a relatively narrow issue of online IP infringement) and detrimental impact on user-generated services such as YouTube. Moreover, critics point out that the ingenuity and entrepreneurship epitomized by an open Internet would be compromised as start up costs for websites would rise exponentially to implement the necessary compliance measures demanded by SOPA. The growing chorus of anger, disappointment , and skepticism directed towards SOPA put its future (at least in its current form) in grave doubt. Indeed, as an issue that has proven so inflammatory that it has united tech giants like Yahoo! and Google, prominent lawmakers, Justin Bieber, and even a group of illustrious law professors, the SOPA might find itself taken offline soon enough.  

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December 7th, 2011 at 3:59 pm

House Introduces Stop Online Piracy Act

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Yesterday the House of Representatives introduced its version of the Protect IP Act, known as the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (“SOPA”). The Senate previously placed a hold on the Protect IP Act over worries that it violated the First Amendment, after commentators from tech industry leaders to law professors decried the proposed law as unconstitutional censorship. The new bill goes even farther, raising new concerns about censorship online. Title I of SOPA, dubbed the E-PARASITE Act, allows the Attorney General to request an injunction against a “foreign infringing site.” After the injunction is granted and the order is served, ISPs would have to take measures to prevent access to the target site by their subscribers within five days of service. Search engines would have to take measures to prevent the target site from being linked. Payment network providers would have to prevent transactions from going through where one of the parties involved is the target site, and online ad services would have to stop providing ads to the target site. The ISPs, search engines, and others who would be affected by this act may intervene in the initial action, or they can file a motion to modify, suspend, or vacate the order after it has been granted. SOPA also allows private actors who are authorized to represent IP holders to send a notification to payment network providers and ad services requiring them to stop providing service to any website alleged to be dedicated to the theft of U.S. property under § 104(a)(1) of the act. It requires these companies to designate agents to receive notifications, and to provide the notification to the targeted sites. Only after the payment network provider or ad service has provided notification, if the website owner believes that they do not meet the definition of a website dedicated to the theft of US property they can send a counter-notification to the same agent. This counter-notification allows the company to continue to provide service to the website. If they do that, the original private actor may then file for an injunction against the website. If enacted, this law would also give immunity to ISPs and payment network providers that take action on their own to prevent access to allegedly infringing website. All of these provisions put in the hands of a few costly measures to take down websites or prevent meaningful access to them, while at most having to meet the requirements of a motion for injunctive relief. The bill would also make it a crime to stream copyrighted content. It would make Internet censorship part of US law and is far too heavy a measure for the problem it aims to combat, namely online piracy. Content owners should be able to protect their property from infringement, but their rights should be weighed against the value of a freer Internet. This bill is in its early stages yet, having only just been introduced to the House Judiciary Committee. Its sibling bill in the Senate didn't make it very far yet, but it will be worth watching to see how SOPA fares. Read the bill in its entirety here.

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October 28th, 2011 at 2:51 pm

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