Author Archives: John Bickerton

DMCA needs to actually enter the millennium

The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) of 1998 sought to give Internet Service Providers legal protection (a “safe harbor”) against copyright infringement claims should one of their users upload copyrighted material. The act made sense at the early stages of the Internet before broadband expansion lead to companies like YouTube and sites like the Pirate Bay.

The DMCA puts the burden of enforcement squarely in the hands of content providers by way of the “takedown notice” which is essentially a form sent to the ISP owner stating that there is some type of media or software on their site which they do not have the rights to be hosting. The takedown notice informs the ISP owner that further legal action will be taken if they don’t comply by removing the sited item(s).

The problem with the DMCA today is that content owners can’t keep up with the volume of takedown notices they have to file. YouTube has received over 100 million DMCA notices from the recording industry in just the last few years. Google’s own statistics show that 97% of these claims are valid.

The DMCA’s safe harbor is also the main defense used by pirate sites like The Pirate Bay, KickAssTorrents and Torrentz. These sites have earned millions by illegally hosting content for which they have no rights or licenses.

Unfortunately, rather than manage copyright, it [the DMCA] has provided a huge loophole through which a number of online pirate entrepreneurs sail blissfully through. Known as the “safe harbor” provision, this oft-abused language has served to shelter digital thieves at the expense of rights holders. ”Safe Harbor” has enabled the growth of a criminal cancer and it’s a cancer–that as of now–cannot be beaten, only kept (marginally) at bay. – See more at VoxIndie.org

The DMCA is Broken from fastgirlfilms on Vimeo.

Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business

In 2013, Digital Citizens Alliance set out to understand how content thieves operate and profit from the works of others. In an effort to determine how much bad actors earn through advertising, Digital Citizens commissioned MediaLink LLC to undertake a research project focused on the ecosystem’s revenues and profitability.

The findings, published in the report “Good Money Gone Bad: Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business” show that these sites are making incredible profits off of the works of others.

The highlights include:
• Content theft sites reaped an estimated quarter of a billion dollars in ad revenue alone in 2013.
• The 30 largest sites that make revenue exclusively through ads averaged $4.4 million in 2013.
• The most heavily trafficked BitTorrent and P2P sites, which rely exclusively on advertising revenue, averaged a projected $6 million per year in 2013.
• 30% of the most heavily trafficked content theft sites carried premium brand advertising and 40% carried secondary brand advertising
• The sites studied in the sample had a estimated profit margin of 80-94%.
This presentation includes screenshots from many of the sites reviewed by MediaLink.

Download Digital Citizens Alliance Report

Download More information (Media Packet)
mediapacket

digitalcitizensalliance-infographic

Postcards to Defend Copyright

We at UniqueTracks want to pass along this link to a very smart messaging program from copylike.org (Defend Copyright). These are online postcards displaying easy to understand statements about the damage to artists caused by piracy and file-sharing. The postcards can be sent directly from the copylike.org site.

See some examples below…

copylike.org_postcard_rightsandtheft

copylike.org_postcard_money

copylike.org_postcard_musicisfree

 

Spread the word at
http://copylike.org

Wikipedia leverages user-generated content for its own politics

Information wants to be free… (or so the Web gospel reads)

Wikipedia apparently has entered the political arena, closing the site for one day to protest the SOPA bill.

What’s interesting to me is the notion that the knowledge collected by Wikipedia, freely given by volunteers spending untold hours contributing to the site, can be leveraged by the site’s owners to support their own politics.

I’m not sure if that would meet the approval of the many, varied, unpaid writers who contribute freely to Wikipedia or so-called crowdsource or “open source” platforms.

In an article titled The importance of Wikipedia published Nov 30, 2011 on opensource.com, Susan Hewitt, a 63-year old contributor to Wikipedia says

“Wikipedia is self-organizing and self-correcting,”. “There is no boss and police force, yet at this point in its development it’s perfectly clear that it works really well.” Wikipedia calls to the better angels of people’s nature, and those angels respond.

No police force, but apparently a higher power.

It’s the downside of the concept of a free web. The truth is there are powers behind the free web and they can use their power when it suits them. Now it’s free, now it’s not. Who decides? Well, we saw this week who decides.

Interestingly, a paid product, Encyclopedia Britannica, for instance, could not be so leveraged. Once you purchase it, it is yours. It can’t be removed from your home by the publishers because they don’t agree with your politics. Is that what we pay for? Ownership? Control? Privacy? Autonomy?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hubris

Charlie Crist Apologizes to David Byrne for Copyright Infringement

Charlie Crist has issued a formal apology for using the Talking Heads’ song “Road to Nowhere” in his 2010 campaign for governor of Florida.

Byrne sued Crist for 1 million dollars after Crist’s campaign used the song illegally. Byrne and Crist settled out of court. This video apology by Crist was probably part of the settlement.

Crist lost his election bid. During the campaign, he left the Republican party to run as an independent after a strong push from Tea Party-backed candidate Marco Rubio. Rubio went on to win the election.

Road to Nowhere was released on Talking Heads 1985 album Little Creatures.

Information Piracy and the Bottom Line

Internet piracy is a hot issue these days. As the amount of non-text media online grows, so does the amount of pirated media. But, just how much piracy is going on has largely remained a topic of speculation.

Until now.

Putting Hard Numbers to Online Piracy

A new study conducted by the British firm Envisional has shed new light on just how widespread the piracy problem is.

According to the study, in the United States alone, 17% of the content streaming, downloading, or otherwise being viewed via the internet is pirated material. That’s nearly one-fifth of all the content viewed by Americans.

To be clear, the study measured bandwidth usage. So, Envisional is not saying that 17% of the population in the United States is pirating copyrighted materials. However, it does show that a massive amount of piracy traffic is cutting into the bottom line of many companies in several industries.

The Magnitude of the Problem

If you own your own business, you can readily understand how devastating these numbers are. Imagine if, after paying for your employees’ benefits, covering workman’s comp insurance, paying business taxes, and shelling out for all the operating costs of your business, someone took 17% of your profits and walked out the door.

In fact, you don’t even have to own a business to understand how frustrating this situation is. If you’re a U.S. employee, you’re used to getting a pay check that’s missing a large chunk of the money you’ve worked hard to earn. As the old saying goes, “Who’s FICA and why is he getting all my money.”

Take another 17% off that and imagine how happy you would be.

The Good News

There is a bright side to the Envisional study. It shows a growing online market for a variety of new media. The interest is there, if we can find a way to control widespread piracy, it will open new doors for legitimate businesses to not only make money but provide additional jobs, which, in this economy, would be a welcome sight.

You can read the full Envisional report here.

New Weapons for the War Against Piracy

The war against online piracy is entering a new era and there are several new weapons that could make an explosive impact in 2011.

COICA

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) in November 2010. This bill would give the US Justice Department the power to shut down websites that are declared as being “dedicated to illegal file sharing”. Opposition to the bill centers around first amendment rights of free speech.

The bill was initially shelved in September but was taken up again by the committee in November. If it passes the House and Senate, and that is in no way a sure thing, it could mean a wave of pirate sites get taken down in 2011. (In late November 2010 the Department of Homeland Security conducted its largest raid of file-sharing sites seizing over 80 domains).

If COICA passes, it’s likely many pirate sites will simply move their operations off American soil and out of the jurisdiction governed by COICA. The US is already encouraging other nations to adopt legislation similar to COICA in their own countries (some nations, like Ecuador, already have something similar to COICA in place).

——————
UPDATE: 3/3/2011
For more please read Chris Castle’s very informed new article Defending Property Rights, Hollywood Style
——————

Google Policy Changes

Following the takedown of several domains late last year, Google made strides to tighten up it’s policy and make it more difficult for pirate sites to gain visibility in the search giant. At the same time they implemented strategies to give more prominence to sites that are legally hosting copyrighted materials.

Google also made it clear that they will be improving response time for takedown requests and improve efforts to remove AdSense ads from sites that pirate copyrighted materials.

The number of pirate sites that rank in Google (or even exist in their index) will taper off in 2011, and it’s no surprise. It behooves Google to be as cooperative on the piracy issue as possible in light of the concern many people have that COICA might even bring YouTube to its knees.

Hitting Pirates Where It Hurts…Their Bank Account

Likely the most effective strategy will come from corporations themselves. The whole reason pirate sites exist is to make money. Most of their revenue comes from online advertisements. These ads come from some pretty big players including major brands like KFC and even Netflix. Often these corporations don’t know where their ads are ending up.

Now that Disney and Warner Brothers have won their lawsuit against Triton Media, there should be a big reduction in advertising dollars sent to pirate sites. (Triton Media, is alleged to have provided advertising consulting and referrals for nine websites identified as “one-stop-shops” for infringing works).

One of the outcomes of that lawsuit is that advertisers can now get a list of sites known to pirate content and can then avoid placing ads on those sites. Companies like Disney and Warner Brothers will now have a list available so they can easily see if the companies managing their advertising campaigns are keeping company dollars out of the pockets of pirates.

Laser Accurate Pirate Tracking

New technology allows movie studios to create a unique tracking code for each movie they create. This tracking code will allow officials to pinpoint the exact moment piracy is committed and tag the person in the distribution chain that is responsible for leaking copyrighted material.

While the movie industry has had a lot of personal experience with pirates themselves, they’ve also been able to learn a great deal from the mistakes of the music industry. As piracy issues are analyzed, trends are appearing. These trends can be leveraged to deal some serious blows to piracy. It’s kind of like cutting off an army’s supply lines, and anti-piracy initiatives will be using these trends to their advantage in 2011.

Independent Filmmaker fights online piracy

I have noticed recently that, when one reads the comments from folks who participate in online piracy, their language is often filled with a kind of virtuous, take-from-the-rich Robin Hood-ism, where piracy is actually seen as the moral high-ground. Pirates are merely taking from overly rich global corporations that, in the case of music at least, are exploiting their artists anyway. The premise seems to be that piracy is good because it is fighting the good fight against fat, capitalist, power-brokers who are out there bilking the consumer.

Though this position is, I’m sure, both convenient and beneficial, it is also incorrect, as the following account of an independent filmmaker’s piracy travails will show.

Filmmaker Ellen Seidler and her partner poured $250,000 into their independent film, And Then Came Lola. The movie saw a good deal of success early on. Unfortunately, much of that success was achieved by content thieves.

Within 24 hours of the release of the DVD of “And Then Came Lola,” digital pirates had ripped the DVD and uploaded it to an internet distribution site where it was distributed for free download. Supported largely by AdSense ads, the site immediately began earning money off the movie.

Despite the fact that Google has a very strict policy against copyright infringement, they also apparently have an unwritten see no evil, hear no evil policy as Google’s AdSense ads are a recurring theme on sites that are pirating music and movies. Google claims that they cannot possibly root out every site that’s pirating copyrighted material and shut down their AdSense ads. Still, the frequency with which AdSense appears on sites completely dedicated to piracy, indicates that Google gives a cursory initial glance at a site before authorizing the site for AdSense and then never looks back.

And, Google isn’t the only advertiser that turns a blind eye to piracy issues. A number of major corporations (Walmart) continue to allow their ads to run on pirate sites.

So, Ellen decided to take matters into her own hands. She started filing take-down notices with every site she could find that was illegally distributing “And Then Came Lola.” Unfortunately, the task quickly became an overwhelming one.

Thousands of cyber lockers already offered her film for free download. Many of the sites have simply ignored her take-down requests. Several have complied with the take-down requests as they are afraid of having their entire site shut down (see End of 2010 sees crackdown on copyright infringement and online piracy), but many just don’t seem to care.

Add to this the fact that for every download link Ellen has disabled several more pop up. So, it seems that most of Ellen’s requests simply sail across the bow of pirate sites and fall harmlessly into the water.

In the end, Ellen (and all independent filmmakers) will need someone with some economic muscle to gather their navy and set sail against the digital pirates of the world. It doesn’t appear that will happen soon (read more on NPR or hear the story directly from Ellen), but independent filmmakers like Ellen Seidler have little choice other than to remain hopeful.

Ensuring Copyright Compliance the Easy Way

Here’s two online videos that describe copyright and how to re-use content in a legal manner. Though the videos deal mostly with using printed materials, they are good as a guide for using music as well.

The videos were produced by the Copyright Clearance Center.

Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) is a global rights broker for millions of the world’s most sought after materials, including in- and out-of-print books, journals, newspapers, magazines, images, blogs, ebooks and more.

CCC’s six minute Copyright Basics video is a great way to get an overview of copyright. It covers everything from the origins and reasons for copyright laws to what is not protected under copyright laws.

The second video gives more specifics on how copyright laws can be inadvertently violated in your workplace. Watch CCC’s video Copyright @ Work. This video introduces you to the typical ways employees unintentionally (or intentionally) ignore copyright laws in the workplace and how you can easily resolve the problem to ensure you and your employees are within the law.

About the Copyright Clearance Center
Copyright holders simply enroll at Rights Central and they’re ready to earn royalties on the creative content for which they have copyrights. CCC makes the content easily searchable and then sends the copyright holder a single check for all royalties on all content the holder has in the CCC system. This saves companies from managing hundreds or thousands of royalty checks and working out details with hundreds or thousands of people who wish to use their content. Musicians will recognize this organization as similar to Performance Rights Organizations (PROs) ASCAP, BMI, SESAC

On the content user’s side, CCC eliminates the hassle of contacting copyright holders and waiting days, weeks, or even months for a reply that authorizes use of copyrighted content. Too often even people who are aware of copyright laws ignore them because getting permission is extremely time consuming.

With CCC, businesses or educational institutions can simply pay an annual fee that gives them authorization to use anything in the CCC database. No longer do you have to wait weeks for a response and pay out numerous checks to get authorization to use copyrighted material. With CCC you can pay once and help yourself to copyrighted materials all year long.

Year end sees crackdown on copyright infringement and online piracy

Here are 4 events that show what looks like a growing trend towards taking serious action against copyright infringement on the Internet.

1. LimeWire, the company that issued the popular peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing software program is closing it’s doors
. LimeWire tried to retool as a legal music site similar to iTunes after the demise of its P2P service, but the company is now abandoning that effort and closing its doors for good on December 31, 2011. Last October a court-ordered injunction forced LimWire to disable ‘the searching, downloading, uploading, file trading and/or file distribution functionality, and/or all functionality; of it’s P2P file-sharing software,” the company said at the time.

2. In Sweden, the convictions of Pirate Bay founders are upheld on appeal
According to the Los Angeles Times, The Pirate Bay is “one of the world’s largest facilitators of illegal downloading“, and “the most visible member of a burgeoning international anti-copyright or pro-piracy movement”. The Pirate Bay website still exists. It has over 4.5 million registered users and is approximately the 89th most popular site on the Internet worldwide. In 2009, it’s founders were found guilty of assisting copyright infringement. The ruling was appealed. In November 2010 the convictions were upheld by a Swedish appeals court. They decreased the original prison terms but increased the fine to 46 million SEK (about 6.6 million dollars).

3. US Seizes 80+ Torrent and P2P web sites
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (a division of Homeland Security) has seized the web addresses of torrent-finder.com and about 80 other websites for copyright violation. The sites have been sharing copyrighted material for free download. The New York Times reported “By Friday morning, visiting the addresses of a handful of sites that either hosted unauthorized copies of films and music or allowed users to search for them elsewhere on the Internet produced a notice that said, in part: “This domain name has been seized by ICE — Homeland Security Investigations, pursuant to a seizure warrant issued by a United States District Court.”

4. Google Upgrades it’s Copyright Infringement policy
A week after the US government’s torrent crackdown, Google issued its own policy changes regarding copyright infringement.

As the web has grown, we have seen a growing number of issues relating to infringing content. We respond expeditiously to requests to remove such content from our services, and have been improving our procedures over time. But as the web grows, and the number of requests grows with it, we are working to develop new ways to better address the underlying problem.

There are four key changes that will have some impact on how they handle copyright-questionable submissions.
1. Google will be trying to take action on takedown request within 24 hours of submission
2. They will prevent terms associated with piracy from showing up in the autocomplete feature of searches
3. They plan to improve AdSense anti-piracy efforts
4. They’ll look for ways to make authorized content more likely to show up in searches