ArtsWatch: Defendant Dotcom

The Hollywood Reporter spotlights Megaupload founder, aka copyright's leading criminal prosecution challenge
May 07, 2012 -- 7:05 am PDT
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

In recent news ...

The Hollywood Reporter's May 11 issue features Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (née Kim Schmitz) in a 5,700-word cover story. Described by Forbes as "one of the most celebrated hackers" in 1992, Dotcom was convicted of insider trading in 2002, pled guilty to embezzlement in 2003, and was arrested earlier this year in New Zealand in an international law enforcement operation that also shut down his popular cyberlocker site's 1,000-strong leased server farm in Virginia. At that time, while running his multimillion-dollar empire, Dotcom was ranked as the world's top player of the video game "Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3." Although it is clear he was also willing to play games with the legal boundaries of copyright law, he claims to have observed the requirements for a safe-harbor defense. "We can't be liable for actions of third parties," he said in a March television interview. "As long as we follow a regime of taking things down that are reported to us, which we have done over all these years, we are protected, according to the law." While awaiting trial, Dotcom is also recording hip-hop tracks and determined to mount a vigorous defense. His track record for being sensational and colorful is proven, and even includes a $10 million offer he made after Sept. 11, 2001, for information that would lead to the arrest of Osama bin Laden. This Hollywood drama starring Dotcom as copyright villain seems sure to keep us in suspense and seems capable of attracting fresh international attention.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk released the latest Special 301 report on April 30, listing countries with inadequate intellectual property protections. Similar to last year, the worst offenders list includes Canada, China, India, Russia, and more than a half-dozen others. Unlike last year, Ukraine has been moved back onto the priority watch list, and Malaysia and Spain have been completely removed due to improvements. Although Switzerland is not on the lists, the report singled out its lax attitude toward online piracy. Content industry groups Copyright Alliance, IIPA, MPAA, NMPA, and the RIAA welcomed this year's report and thanked the federal agencies that contributed to it. The RIAA said, "Thanks in great part to the work of the U.S. government over the past couple of decades, there are fewer and fewer places that are truly hospitable to piracy. ... There is increasingly broad recognition that fueling creativity through the protection of objects of creativity is an essential component of a nation's ability to economically compete in the 21st century, and for sustaining cultural diversity." Consumer advocates Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge complained that their input had been ignored and that inclusion on the lists was based on industry-provided data reflecting a narrow point of view.

On April 26 the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3523, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, by a 248–168 vote that reflected heavy Republican support. The result disappointed consumer advocates such as EFF and answered the question "Is CISPA another SOPA?" in the negative insofar as it did succeed in passing the House. As passed, there are various viewpoints on CISPA, including opposition from the software foundation Mozilla, Microsoft backing away from the bill, and the threat of a White House veto. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the co-sponsors of the Senate bill S. 2105, the Cybersecurity Act of 2012, said in a joint statement, "We congratulate the House for passing cyber information sharing and research and development legislation, necessary but by no means comprehensive elements of a cybersecurity legislative strategy. We are troubled House leaders blocked consideration of protections for critical infrastructure systems, ignoring the advice of our military and intelligence leaders as well as most cybersecurity experts. ... The Senate cybersecurity bill provides comprehensive protection for these systems. We look forward to debating and passing that bill so that we can conference with the House and produce legislation that secures the most critical systems on which all American people and businesses depend each day." So while CISPA as passed might be as dead as SOPA in the Senate, much of its language could be resurrected in a conference committee hybrid of the two bills.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct a May 9 oversight hearing of U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel. Last year's hearing indicated strong bipartisan support for the IPEC's job performance.

A Senate vote is expected shortly to confirm Federal Communications Commission nominated commissioners Ajit Varadaraj Pai and Jessica Rosenworcel, who were nominated in November. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) had blocked their confirmation to spur action over a separate FCC issue but lifted his block on April 27.

May 15 is the reply deadline for the Copyright Office's request for information regarding crowdsourcing the data needed to turn its image scans of millions of records from 1870–1977 into a searchable database of copyright. The project's progress is covered in the office's blog, Copyright Matters: Digitization and Public Access.

In the ongoing story of Britain's High Court ordering UK Internet service providers to block infringing site the Pirate Bay, a ruling ordered ISPs Everything Everywhere, O2, Sky, TalkTalk, and Virgin Media to comply with the block, but BT's request for a delay was granted.

In the ongoing story of European Parliament's consideration and anticipated rejection of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, the rapporteur for the International Trade Committee David Martin submitted his formal recommendation to reject ACTA on April 25.

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

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