08/22/2011 08:59 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)
Here’s the thing to know about the Congressional Budget Office (CBO)’s cost estimate for implementing the PROTECT IP Act: it’s entirely possible that it won’t cost anything extra at all.
The bill doesn’t call for any spending in itself; you will find no dollar signs in PROTECT IP. CBO’s statements that the bill “would not affect direct spending or revenues” and “would not affect the budgets of state, local, or tribal governments” reflect that same fact. The bill does not direct the government to spend money, which is enormously important.
The Justice Department has seen a significant increase in its resources related to fighting copyright infringement and intellectual property theft in recent years. The PRO-IP Act of 2008 authorized and Congress subsequently provided funding for an additional 51 FBI agents dedicated to enforcement of intellectual property laws. The new PROTECT IP Act would give these agents and their colleagues new authority to tackle the threat of rogue sites, and knowing what we do about the FBI, it’s extremely unlikely that they would wait to start going after rogue sites until additional money came in the door.
Of course, to echo what the Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy said last week, we would welcome it if Congress chooses to devote even more resources to the fight against content theft and counterfeiting – especially since fewer stolen movies, TV shows, and other content will mean not only more jobs and economic output, but more tax revenues, too.
Even if prosecutors were successfully able to keep just a handful of the highest-traffic sites that steal films and TV out of the U.S. marketplace each year, it would make a huge difference. In that sense, any money we spend on PROTECT IP is likely to produce a healthy return on investment for taxpayers – which, in the end, is the best outcome of all.
08/22/2011 07:36 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)
Songwriter and Grammy-award winner Don Henley is speaking out in support of the PROTECT IP Act with an op-ed in USA Today, posted online yesterday. In particular, Henley expresses concern at a push to exempt search engines from the bill:
"Search engines, including Google, already make filtering tools that block references and links to websites featuring pornographic and other content considered unsuitable or offensive. The technology is there, but the will of some companies is not. It seems that their real agenda is to avoid the loss of advertising, 'pay per click' and other revenue if these sites were shut down. After all, Google is reportedly bracing for a $500 million fine for doing just that ?— accepting untold advertising dollars from illegal online pharmacies.
"Proposed solutions aren't radical; they are common-sense extensions of current legal powers. As with other federal crimes, authorities have the ability to seize ill-gotten gains along with the tools used to commit the crimes. But most criminals register their domain names overseas, forcing U.S. law enforcement officials to play a frustrating online cat-and-mouse game. In order to take down these illegal sites, they need cooperation from U.S. Internet service providers and search engines. American firms can and should block these criminal sites, and U.S. ad networks and credit card companies should cut off money going to them. The 'Protect IP Act' would give law enforcement the tools to accomplish this goal."
Read the rest of Henley’s column here.
08/19/2011 10:16 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)
Larry Downes’s “Five essential changes to Protect IP Act” post for CNET this week is mistitled. Rather than strengthen this crucial legislation, which enlists a wide range of players in the Internet ecosystem to help shut down foreign websites that traffic in stolen intellectual property, Mr. Downes’s proposals would gut it.
It’s disappointing that some in the tech community seem to be suggesting that the only way they will support legislation combating rogue sites is if that legislation doesn’t require the tech community to do anything. But that approach is both ineffective and irresponsible. What gives the PROTECT IP Act its force is the same thing that bothers its opponents: its recognition that when it comes to stopping content theft, we are all in this together, and we all need to work together for those efforts to succeed.
That means it’s not enough, as Downes suggests, to prevent rogue websites from accessing the U.S. financial infrastructure they use to profit from stolen content, such as payment processing and advertising networks. We also need to keep those sites – which are actively involved, every day, in the wholesale theft of American-made intellectual property – from using U.S.-based technological infrastructure to infiltrate the legitimate marketplace for content and consumer goods. Legislation that doesn’t get at both pieces of that puzzle, at least in some way, will be markedly less effective.
Downes claims new legislation on rogue sites isn’t necessary because “existing enforcement mechanisms, such as the ‘notice and takedown’ provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, have made great strides in controlling unlicensed distribution.” It’s true that the DMCA is a critically important and widely used tool, but it works only when the website hosting infringing content is willing to comply. Notorious rogue site The Pirate Bay proudly states that “0 torrents has been removed, and 0 torrents will ever be removed” [sic].
Trust us – if the people and organizations who create content and other intellectual property could stop all online theft alone, we’d have done it long ago. But we can’t. We need help. To this end, we’re pleased that it looks as though there will soon be a version of PROTECT IP introduced in the House. Kudos to Chairman Goodlatte for making clear that this bill will include “new legal tools” for both law enforcement and copyright-holders to protect their intellectual property against infringement.
The way we see it, if we protect the jobs, wages, public revenues, and other economic growth that results when we safeguard intellectual property, we all benefit.
08/16/2011 06:57 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)
My post from the end of last week responding to a GigaOm NewTeeVee piece suggesting that economic instability would trigger a rise in online content theft, which GigaOm generously asked to republish, generated interesting follow-ups on both TorrentFreak and Techdirt. I had a couple of thoughts I wanted to share in response.
Both enigmax’s post for TorrentFreak and Mike Masnick’s for Techdirt argue that I misunderstood the original post, written by NewTeeVee co-editor Janko Roettgers, which was “simply reporting a simple fact” (as Masnick put it) that “people who have the ability may choose to reduce their TV and movie bills in times of hardship” (as enigmax euphemistically put it).
In other words: movie and TV theft is inevitable. Why? Because it’s easy to steal something that, in physical form, exists only as data, and easy to justify stealing it as a result? Because information wants to be free, no matter the cost it took to produce or its creators’ judgments about how best to disseminate it? Because anything is fair game once it’s on the Internet? Because if I rip a movie file off of a DVD or camcord a showing at a theater, I have created that movie with my own labor and can do whatever I want with the file, including posting it online and making money from ad sales or subscription fees? Because by stealing films and TV, or watching stolen films and TV, I’m just exercising my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech? All those are arguments we’ve heard before.
Mike Masnick wrote that we need to “adapt and deal with reality,” and actually, I think he’s right – depending on which reality we’re talking about. Is it the reality that the Internet and the explosion of mobile technology have opened up vast new ways for us to communicate with one another and for film and TV-makers to offer their work to people who want to watch it? Because as Julia blogged last month, there are “more options than ever before to get movies and TV shows online safely and legitimately” – we have a list on MPAA.org here, and the creative minds in our industry are working on even more as we speak.
Is it the reality that some people do steal content online? Unfortunately, it’s clear that’s true – otherwise we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation. But do “many, many people” really intend to engage in theft just to watch a movie or TV show cheaply or for free? We doubt it, particularly if legitimate, better alternatives are available; if they know it’s wrong; and if they understand it’s not a victimless crime.
Efforts are underway on all of those fronts, both here at MPAA and across the country. One major reason we published that list of authorized online sources is to make it very clear which sites are okay, because some rogue sites that seem to go out of their way to appear legitimate could surely confuse people who aren’t as familiar with where to go for movies and TV online. A major benefit of our new agreement with Internet Service Providers is that it will help consumers get more information about why copyright is important and the impact of content theft. And new organizations like Creative America are bringing together the people whose work goes into making films, TV, and other creative works to help make sure they have the opportunity to speak out about how content theft affects them – check out this post by Jessica last week with a video offering just a few examples.
But if what Masnick means is that we need to throw up our hands and look the other way while people who had nothing to do with making a movie or a TV show steal and profit from it, that is a reality to which we do not care to adapt, period.
08/16/2011 06:38 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)
Check out Michael O'Leary's column in Monday's The Epoch Times, responding to errors in a story last week on the PROTECT IP Act. Contrary to suggestions in the article, Michael pointed out that the bill is very narrowly-tailored and includes strong due process protections.
Michael also argued that the Times missed the larger point:
The simple fact is that any business whose products are stolen is less able to invest in new products, new innovations, and new jobs. If film theft leads to fewer productions, that has a real effect on the economy and on employment for many, many people who work in the creative industries. And it also means fewer movies and TV shows for all of us to enjoy.
In the end, the purpose of the PROTECT IP Act and other efforts around the world to fight film and TV theft is to preserve our ability to make those films and TV shows in the first place. Losing that is too high a price to pay.
Click here to read the full piece.
08/15/2011 09:51 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)
Robert Levine, the author and former Billboard executive editor, had two insightful articles published over the weekend, in The Guardian and Wired, exploring the interdependencies between the creators who produce information, art, and other content, and the people and platforms that distribute it online – and what that means for copyright.
His bottom line is that generally, everybody who produces things of value – whether it’s the creators who make movies or music or TV shows or the engineers who write software and build technology that makes that content available more quickly – needs to be able to earn some kind of return on their work in order to keep doing it. That’s finally the problem with the “information wants to be free” argument, about which Levine comments in both articles; in his words in Wired, “[t]he problem is that the cost of distributing information has very little to do with the cost of creating it.”
The labels and studios that invest millions in music and movies want to maintain a market for their products. But ISPs and technology companies know their own products will have more value if they can offer that content at a lower price, by tolerating piracy or using it as a bargaining chip to negotiate deals. On the internet, the information that wants to be free always belongs to someone else.
More along the same lines, from Levine’s piece in The Guardian:
It seems obvious, but an information economy needs a functioning market for information. Traditionally, that market was created by copyright, but those laws haven't been enforced effectively online. This helps companies such as YouTube build businesses on the backs of creative professionals.
Certainly, copyright laws need to be updated for the digital age. Many reformers say they favour protection, but view any attempt to enforce it as unacceptable. This doesn't make sense: a market can't be based on voluntary payments, and laws don't work if they can't be enforced. There needs to be some penalty for illegal downloading, although slowing the access speed of a lawbreaker makes more sense than cutting their account entirely. By the same token, why should internet users be allowed to access sites that clearly – and that last word is important – violate UK law? If the UK simply declines to enforce its laws online, it will leave many of its businesses vulnerable as the internet becomes more important to commerce in the years ahead.
As pressure builds to enforce copyright law online, technology companies and the activists they support have started to argue that any attempt to block pirate sites will "break the internet", as though it were an iPhone teetering on the edge of a table. The truth is that the internet is broken already: it's simply too chaotic to provide the infrastructure for a 21st-century economy. This has to change, before newspapers and film suffer declines like that of the music industry. Technology companies have long lectured creators on the need to adapt to a changing digital world. It would be a shame if they couldn't heed their own advice.
Both of Levine’s columns (online in The Guardian and Wired) are worth reading in full.
08/12/2011 10:47 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)
The disappointing thing about Janko Roettgers’s post for GigaOm’s New TeeVee section yesterday is its casual promotion of the idea that stealing movies, TV shows and music is a perfectly acceptable way to save money.
Roettgers writes at length about recent changes in online video offerings, but his real point is this:
“The U.S. credit ratings downgrade, tumbling stocks and international instability have made not just financial analysts nervous this week. Consumers are also starting to wonder whether we’re about to enter another recession. Whenever that happens, people start to tighten their belts and cut unnecessary expenses — like paying for movies and TV shows. … With memories of the housing slump still fresh, many people could simply return to BitTorrent and download movies for free instead of going to the movies or paying for VOD.” (emphasis ours)
There’s no question that when people aren’t certain about their finances – because they’re worried they or someone in their family will lose their job, or the prices of gas or other essentials will rise significantly – they change how they think about expenses and spend money. But if Roettgers had written that financially insecure families will shoplift clothes from a department store this fall to save on back-to-school costs for their children, he would be laughed out of the proverbial building, right?
T-shirts and jeans aren’t made out of zeroes and ones, at least not yet. But just because movies and TV shows and songs can now be packaged and distributed as data, not just as film reels or vinyl records or DVDs, and can be acquired or distributed with a few clicks of a mouse, doesn’t mean that the labor and time and money that went into making them is any less meaningful.
We doubt many people will subscribe to the kind of intellectual dishonesty that suggests that it’s fine – or really, that it’s inevitable – to steal as a way of saving. But it’s troubling that by suggesting that stolen content available on rogue sites and elsewhere is just another substitute good, Roettgers is tacitly arguing that content theft is legitimate and socially acceptable. Truth is, it’s neither.
08/11/2011 10:48 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)
Zediva, the unlicensed video-on-demand service that a federal court has determined violated the MPAA members’ copyrights, has announced that it is “suspending” its operations. Of course we welcome Zediva’s statement that it will begin complying with the law. But we also want to emphasize that there remain many legal alternatives for movie fans to watch movies over the Internet on their own schedule. As we said when the judge granted the studios’ motion for a preliminary injunction against Zediva on August 1, “Movie fans today have more on-demand options than ever for watching films at home, from iTunes to Netflix to Amazon to Vudu to Hulu to the VOD offerings from cable and satellite operators. All these legitimate companies have obtained licenses from the copyright owners.” We look forward to bringing our litigation against Zediva to a final conclusion, and to continuing to help foster a thriving marketplace where illegal operators can’t undermine legitimate businesses that play by the rules.