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Moving Forward on Piracy
Author:  Howard Gantman
Date:  02/16/2012

In the aftermath of the heated debate on anti-piracy legislation, many – relieved of the polarizing climate in Washington – are now having conversations focused on the common ground that stakeholders on both sides of the issue share. Solutions-focused exchanges, like the one hosted by the Paley Center on Tuesday, exemplify this new attitude of open-dialogue and compromise. The discussion featured Fred Wilson, co-founder of Union Square Ventures, early investor in Twitter and technology industry advocate and Rick Cotton, the executive vice president and general counsel of NBC Universal.

Wilson – a frequent critic of legislation affecting the internet – gave rather unexpected comments at the event, which to some were representative of how much the conversation around piracy has progressed in just a few weeks. Wilson even pointed out that he “think[s] it’s very possible for the content industry and the internet industry to work on solutions.”

In the debate over pirated content, Wilson argued: “We know who the good guys are, who are licensed and operating legitimately.” He went so far as to suggest a “blacklist” to encourage public awareness of rogue sites profiting from illegal content. However, he also seemed to acknowledge the contentiousness of the topic he was wading into, suggesting that “Google should do this… they won’t but they should.”

As the moderator noted, search engines occupy a distinct place in the debate over rogue websites since their companies often profit from advertising which features illegal content. Wilson also surprised some in the audience when he agreed that a handful of known pirate sites should be shut down.

As CNet’s Greg Sandoval noted, in addition to his work in the tech industry, Wilson’s firm invests in legal forms of content sharing that are consistently threatened by pirated content. Sandoval writes:

“It won't come as a surprise that Wilson is sympathetic to at least some of the piracy problems that copyright owners face. His venture capital fund is invested in Turntable.fm, an online music service, and Boxee, software that enables owners to watch Web video on TVs.

“Both companies have stayed within the law and competed against companies that don't. Not having to pay to license content is a big advantage over those that do pay.” 

During the discussion, Cotton asked the audience to “take a big step back” to have a real conversation about the extent of the problem and how it harms the US.  “You have just a tidal wave of counterfeit physical products being distributed on the internet as well as stolen digital content,” Cotton shared, “so I think from the point of view of the United States –which is an advanced economy, it is a knowledge economy, it does not aspire to be a low-cost manufacturing economy – that the driving force is our invention, our innovation, technical invention, creativity…”

Cotton went on to say that ultimately, it’s in the long term national interest to come to the table and be sure that “the economic benefits of our creativity are not stolen and actually accrue to the United States.”

In the coming months, more of these discussions will take place as many stakeholders and institutions become more concerned about pirated material. After all, there appears to be clear agreement that online content theft is a problem in need of a solution.