Online Piracy Finally In the Crosshairs
On March 13, the Congressional Subcommittee on copyright reform held hearings on proposed revisions to the DMCA, Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Those invited to testify were evenly split between those who represented the tech industry and those who represented the artist and Copyright. Maria Schneider, a Grammy Award Winner, was the lone artist represented on the panel. She presented honest, impassioned testimony framing the serious challenges of out-of-control piracy from an artist's perspective.
Written in 1998, with the intent of protecting both copyright holders and website owners, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, quickly became a devastating problem for copyright holders. Not coincidentally, barely a year later, in 1999, Shawn Fanning launched Napster, marking the beginning of online piracy and over a decade of artist abuse.
Now, fifteen years later, most pirate sites are still operating under the protection provided by the DMCA's Safe Harbor; a loop-hole that has enabled pirate sites to thrive in a quasi-legal gray area. A safe harbor from which online pirates claim compliance by engaging in what is commonly referred to as whack-a-mole, a process where infringing sites comply with take down notices by taking down the infringing content only to have the same content reposted almost immediately from another source.
The proposed change referred to as Stay Down strives to eliminate the safe harbor loop-hole. Copyright holders and administrators, while still responsible for policing their work, are only responsible for notifying a website operator one time. Once that is accomplished, the hosting site is now responsible for blocking the infringing content. A process that can be managed by software programs. If a service provider fails to comply they are in violation of the law.
The Stay Down provision and the problems caused by safe harbor were the key revisions being heard by the subcommittee.
After watching all three hours of testimony, it was clear that the congressional representatives, understood just how bad things had become for artists. It was nothing less than a revelation for those like myself who have been following the destruction of piracy for years. Every member of the subcommittee saw the need to provide greater protection for the individual artist. The cruel absurdity of hundreds of millions of nearly worthless take down notices every year was finally inescapable.
The tech industry has always been very adept at redirecting any discussion that threatens to regulate their business, but this time with years of documented abuse, even the tenacious representative from Google was unable to make much headway. Her main point was how hard Google was fighting alongside artists and how Google was providing a new streamlined method for copyright holders to file take down notices. Really, a more efficient way to file worthless take down notices? Fortunately, none of the Congressmen were buying into this subterfuge.
Congresswoman Judy Chu, a job creation advocate from California, provided real time proof that Google was failing in burying pirated sites in their search results. Barely typing in a few keystrokes associated with the Oscar Winning Film, 12 Years a Slave, numerous pirate sites appeared immediately on her iPad near the top of Google's first search page. Unfazed, the representative from Google continued to extoll the progress that was being made by her company in pushing these pirate sites down in their rankings.
With Amazement, Ms. Chu alluded to the fact that at the very moment Google's representative was responding, Ms. Chu was literally looking at search results on her iPad. Sometimes, reality is irrefutable, even when confronted by the sharpest of minds.
Why are search companies, like Google, so determined to maintain the status quo? The answer is simple. For all the claims about innovation and the power of the Internet to drive our ailing economy, the Internet is totally dependent upon content. Without it, they simply have warehouses filled with empty servers and endless bandwidth. The key to their explosive financial growth is dependent upon unlimited, cheap access to quality content.
Irregardless of the facts, Google's unofficial spokesperson, Michael Masnick of techdirt is already fiercely pounding the drum comparing stay down to the failed SOPA. The two are very different and, yes, Google will invoke the free speech card like they always do when they don't want to play by the rules, unless it's their rules. Google stay down and see what you find.
What they fail to take into account is that someday, soon, they will run through all the great content produced over the last fifty year and find themselves desperate. Desperate for the great content that was created because someone was willing to pay for it.
Ultimately, the other real loser is the audience. Fans, like myself, who understand that greatness is not a part time job or a hobby. It is someone's years of hard work and dedication. Someone who needs to be able to earn a living wage while they dedicate themselves to their work.
The Stay Down legislation makes sense and is way overdue. It is time to finally do something that supports our artists, musicians, filmmakers, authors, photographers, software developers, video game developers and everyone in the creative community whose work merits pay.