ArtsWatch: Online Piracy — 53 Billion Served?

Digital piracy report's big numbers cause major sharing websites to defend their practices
January 17, 2011 -- 11:02 am PST
By Philip Merrill /

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 @ and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Encouraged by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to estimate the scope of online intellectual property theft, brand protection firm MarkMonitor released a study on Jan. 11 examining 22 brands representing product categories including music and film. Crunching publicly available traffic data from 43 websites — linking to pirated content from 10 media brands — revealed an impressive 53 billion Web visits per year. Steve Tepp of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, "Now we begin to see the staggering scope of this problem.... The study's findings underscore the urgency to address this epidemic in order to protect consumers, allow the legitimate Internet marketplace to flourish, and create jobs in America." Describing the study as "a call to arms," MPAA President and Interim CEO Bob Pisano said, "These websites and their operators are in our backyards; their lawlessness cannot be tolerated." Three sites were singled out by MarkMonitor for drawing the most traffic: RapidShare, Megaupload and Megavideo, accounting for 21 billion visits per year. The operators of these sites dispute the "digital piracy" label, point to their legally compliant takedown procedures, and claim they are entitled to safe harbor as Internet service providers because their services support legal uses. A company statement from RapidShare said, "RapidShare offers the exact same takedown features to copyright owners as YouTube does.... Where is the difference?" Expressing impatience with this well-established copyright law defense, Digital Media News said, "Isn't this the same game that every piracy heavyweight plays? Pointing to legal uses while swimming in an illegitimate morass?"

Separate reports from Ericsson and YouTube indicate mobile Internet adoption can be counted on to keep running up big numbers. On Jan. 11 Ericsson released its estimate that mobile broadband adoption would double 2010's landmark of a half-billion subscribers, reaching 1 billion by the end of 2011. The mobile technology leader predicts the Asia-Pacific region will account for 400 million subscribers by year's end, while Europe and North America will total 200 million each. Separately on Jan. 12 YouTube — while announcing the availability of Vevo music videos for its mobile Android app — revealed that its mobile video views have tripled to 200 million views a day since the beginning of 2010.

Gao Feng, deputy director of the Economic Crimes Investigation Bureau for China's Ministry of Public Security, tallied intellectual property rights enforcement statistics since a government crackdown began in November — more than 4,000 arrests, more than 2,000 cases, and an estimated financial value of $348 million. Observing that these numbers triple the results from one year ago, Gao said, "On one hand they demonstrate the achievements we've made in cracking down on the violation of IPR, on the other hand it also indicates that IPR violation is still quite rampant and frequent so we want to introduce heavier punishments." Rigorous IP enforcement is expected to be one of the issues surrounding an official State visit by Hu Jintao, president of the People's Republic of China, at the White House on Jan. 19.

On Jan. 10 Cnet News updated its ongoing coverage of attorneys' efforts to sue thousands of defendants simultaneously for copyright infringement with news that a lawsuit against 15,000 Internet users was filed that day in Washington D.C.'s U.S. District Court. When ArtsWatch reported the ongoing drama last month, the law firm behind was responding to jurisdictional concerns by planning to restrict such suits to local defendants and hoped to set up a national network of attorneys to bring lawsuits against infringers in their respective regions. In addition to having made progress setting up such a network, that law firm has now gone beyond its existing client base of independent production companies and will also be representing pornography production companies' like-minded efforts to collect damages.

Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard A. Schmidt announced on Jan. 7 that a national program office will be established within the department to support public and private implementation of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. Trusted identities will improve and unify procedures for user authentication online while supporting privacy and the option of anonymity.

On Jan. 10 organizations that support Net neutrality, including Free Press, requested that the Federal Communications Commission open an investigation of wireless service provider MetroPCS' plans to offer a lower-tier mobile broadband subscription that seems likely to exclude such popular applications as Netflix and Skype. Free Press Policy Counsel M. Chris Riley said, "MetroPCS' practices are particularly problematic because, as the company itself recognizes, it disproportionately serves lower-income subscribers, the same audience that is increasingly relying on mobile access to the Web. A walled garden in mobile broadband leaves a large number of Internet users on the wrong side of the digital divide."

BMI announced the launch of its BMI Live program on Jan. 11, enabling performing songwriters to enter venue and playlist data online to qualify for their fair share of fees paid by live music venues. BMI Senior VP of Repertoire and Licensing Mike O'Neill said, "We thank the thousands of small-business owners who support live music and pay licensing fees to BMI. ... This program gives those performing songwriters working even the smallest venues a better opportunity to share in the royalty pie."


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