ArtsWatch: Pirate Rogue's Gallery

Updated list of notorious markets illustrates foreign Internet enforcement challenge
January 09, 2012 -- 2:42 am PST
By Philip Merrill / GRAMMY.com

In recent news ...

The U.S. Trade Representative released the latest Special 301 Out-of-Cycle Review of Notorious Markets on Dec. 20, highlighting the most glaring examples of global intellectual property piracy both on and off the Internet. The USTR also commended China's Baidu and other markets that took positive action to deserve omission from this year's update. The report won swift praise from trade organizations IIPA, MPAA and RIAA. MPAA Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs Michael O'Leary said, "The MPAA commends and greatly appreciates the USTR's recognition of the damage inflicted by these foreign criminal websites and other illicit marketplaces on U.S. global competitiveness, and we applaud the USTR's work to protect American jobs. The list also demonstrates the need for Congress to take action against rogue websites that are causing so much damage to American workers and businesses." IP advocates argue that free speech protections do not apply to criminal activity, but opponents of rogue websites legislation now pending in Congress fear that the proposed approaches for stronger enforcement would be misused for censorship. The USTR's rogues gallery includes many of the world's most popular websites and Internet services — a selection that serves as a sobering reminder why more needs to be done to make sites like these less profitable and less available to the casual Internet user.

In a Jan. 4 TorrentFreak interview, Sweden's Isak Gerson revealed that the copy-friendly religious movement he started in 2010 was recognized as one of Sweden's official national religions last month. With only a few thousand members, so far, the Church of Kopimism seems like a combination of a publicity stunt and heartfelt beliefs. For people who believe "information wants to be free" it is as if computer files are saying "copy me." Gerson said, "There's still a legal stigma around copying for many. A lot of people still worry about going to jail when copying and remixing. I hope in the name of Kopimi that this will change." However silly this might seem to nonbelievers, it does touch on deep truths about sharing information socially. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, most of what is out there is not forbidden fruit. Here's hoping that Kopimists will spread information about how to clearly recognize when the secular society's restrictions deem some copying and sharing to be illegal.

Cloaking its frustration in schoolmarmish sanctimony, the RIAA issued "One Year Later: Google's Report Card on Making Copyright Work Better Online" on Dec. 19 with a grade of "incomplete." The timetable follows up on statements from Google in December 2010 and September 2011. Like many real report cards from impatient disciplinarians, the meat is contained in the written comments at the end. The RIAA wrote, "While professing to agree that copyright infringement is a serious problem that needs to be addressed, Google raises alarmist, self-serving criticism to any legislative proposal to deter or thwart rampant copyright infringement. Google should stop engaging in destructive rhetoric and come to the table with constructive proposals to address this problem." Commenting on the conflict, Digital Music News said, "The interests just seem diabolically opposed, simply because people demand pirated stuff — a lot of it." In contemplating the mysteries of future Internet technology, one of life's big questions is whether Google is better equipped to make a huge dent in Internet piracy than the U.S. Congress. Opponents of pending legislation might consider encouraging Google to commit to improving its effort.

On Dec. 20 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court ruling against Universal Music Group that granted video-sharing site Veoh's motion for summary judgment, arguing its antipiracy activities were adequate to qualify for the Internet service provider safe harbor defense. Although victorious in court before and now again, Veoh went bankrupt in 2010 in large part due to its defense costs.

The Copyright Office published its congressionally mandated report regarding pre-1972 sound recordings on Dec. 28, recommending these be moved under the federal copyright regime despite opposition from recording labels. Federalizing copyright protection for older audio recordings — currently governed by state law and common law — would be a serious disruption for rights holders, but the Copyright Office believes any harm would be minimal and proposes several practical approaches to keep it that way. This is a win for archivists who want to adopt national best practices that could lead to improved public access to America's pre-1972 audio heritage and could also lead to a well-defined body of recordings in the public domain.

Spain's newly constituted government enacted new antipiracy laws in the final week of 2011 and implementation is expected to begin in March. The regulations passed parliament under the previous government and have Internet activists up in arms, devising strategies to protest and trying to neutralize the regulations' tough terms. One key feature is the ability of government appointed commissions to expedite determinations of whether a site is infringing and whether to shut it down, without involving the court system.

On Jan. 6 a new Internet law in the country of Belarus came into effect, forcing consumers to rely on domestic websites for e-commerce, email and many other online services. It provides rules to fine or close Internet cafes that facilitate noncompliance with the law, and empowers the police, the secret police and tax collectors to investigate and prosecute violations.

In December two law courts in India issued orders to more than a dozen Internet companies based on content deemed offensive. One merely called for the removal of offensive content, but the other summoned 19 companies to stand trial for distributing obscene images.

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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