ArtsWatch: Internet Activists' Cat Signal

Coalition of consumer advocates unite behind branded alert to rally popular pressure
July 23, 2012 -- 6:26 am PDT
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

In recent news ...

On Jan. 19 Fight for the Future launched the Internet Defense League, a whimsical yet serious coalition of websites, tech-friendly pressure groups, politicians, and members of the general public. Timed to coincide with the first midnight showings of The Dark Night Rises, IDL has enlisted participating websites to host code that can be activated to display a cat signal, meant to be similar to a bat signal alerting Internet activists to rise and apply popular pressure. Street parties in several major cities raised funds and public awareness for the league, projecting live versions of the cat signal on the sides of buildings. The league is even harder to take seriously considering the original Lolcats site is a participating member, meaning the "I Can Has Cheezburger?" cat is officially affiliated. Fight for the Future first surfaced with its ludicrous Free Bieber campaign, which opposed stronger copyright legislation, and played a pivotal role in the Jan. 18 protests that caused the Stop Online Piracy Act, H.R. 3261, to be stopped in its tracks. This is the type of popular pressure that resulted in the European Parliament's rejection of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement on July 4. High-concept, attention-grabbing antics are now a powerful tool helping drive viral messages that promote online activism. The creative community needs updated laws and tougher copyright enforcement to protect professional livelihoods in this era of free online sharing — the cat signal is now ready to rally opposition if any of these efforts are perceived as chipping away at Internet freedom.

The FBI published a final rule in the Federal Register on July 13 to broaden use of its Anti-Piracy Warning Seal beyond the five entertainment and software industry associations that have participated in the APW's pilot program since 2003. The bureau has received a large enough volume of requests to use the seal from outside the pilot group that establishing an easy and open process to make it more widely available was a cost-effective response. Beginning Aug. 13 and subject to several conditions, any U.S. copyright owner will be able to download the official AWP Seal image and use it without any fee on their protected works. The Federal Register includes the FBI's responses to comments, clarifying that the warning is only "part of a much larger government-wide effort to combat intellectual property piracy" but that it "serves as a vivid and widely recognizable reminder of the FBI's authority and mission with respect to the protection of intellectual property rights."

On July 12 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced another round of Web domain seizures shortly after its Operation In Our Sites initiative completed its second year. This round nabbed 70 websites and was dubbed "Project Copy Cat" as its targets sold counterfeit merchandise through fraudulent websites. ICE Director John Morton said, "This operation targeted criminals making a buck by trying to trick consumers into believing they were buying name brand products from legitimate websites when in fact they were buying counterfeits from illegal but sophisticated imposter sites located overseas." This crop highlights a new problem with third-party intermediaries bestowing a patina of legitimacy because many of the seized sites used Secure Sockets Layer digital certificates, indicating that SSL providers should more rigorously check the identities of companies they authorize to use the trusted certificates. Project Copy Cat brings the total of seized websites up to 839. The seizure banner posted where seized websites previously resided had been viewed 103 million times at the time of this writing.

Authorities in China held a press conference on July 17 to report on progress in their ongoing campaign to ensure that government offices use legally licensed software. Inspections of the central government and 31 provincial divisions were concluded by the end of June. A designated website assisted officials' software purchases and provided steep discounts. The tally of purchases so far totals $160 million — 158,823 operating systems and 506,693 other packages, including office suites and antivirus software. Approximately two-thirds of the latter category were sourced from local software developers, demonstrating once again that better IP protection includes benefits for local IP creators. Inspections of software used at the county and city government levels will continue through next year and could yield many more legitimate purchases since China has thousands of counties and hundreds of cities.

On July 12 the top courts in France and Germany rendered antipiracy-friendly verdicts, sending their respective cases back to lower courts for resolutions consistent with their latest rulings. The French Supreme Court found in favor of recording industry association Syndicat National de l'édition Phonographique and against Google, mandating that the search engine's auto-complete function should not direct users to infringing material by suggesting completed terms, including "megaupload," "rapidshare," and "torrent." Separately, Germany's Federal Court of Justice ruled that Rapidshare must take steps that are "technically and economically reasonable" once it has received notice and deleted an infringing work, to prevent the work being re-uploaded and remaining on the site's servers. The lower court is asked to determine what steps are reasonable.

Three separate stories in Britain exemplify the frustrating challenge of trying to crack down on online piracy. The UK Intellectual Property Office published its latest "IP Crime Report" on July 16, revealing massive but inadequate efforts to take down infringing material. This led Billboard.biz to question whether the "whack-a-mole" game of issuing takedown requests amounts to more of a hobby than a solution. That same day, the BBC reported on anonymous conversations with an Internet service provider that blocking notorious site the Pirate Bay only seemed to affect the total volume of file-sharing for approximately one week. Separately on July 10, Audio-Technica UK released the results of a survey finding that 49 percent of British consumers thought free downloading was acceptable, more than 20 percent had done so in the past week, and 40 percent of respondents could not remember when they had last purchased a CD.

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.

Click on the "ArtsWatch" tag for links to other GRAMMY News stories in this series.

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