North American Lawmakers Grapple with Anti-Piracy Initiatives

Nov 1, 2011 9:00 AM PST

LOS ANGELES — As all members of the creative community come together to find a solution to widespread digital content piracy, legislators cope with competing interests.

For example, Canadian music publisher ole recently launched its Stop Corporate Music Piracy campaign, in hopes of changing the newly-introduced copyright legislation, Bill C-11 — launching an educational website ( that offers several positive suggestions for changes to the legislation.

“The Copyright Modernization Act — Bill C-11 — will fail Canadians because it does nothing to stop the ISPs, search engines, advertisers, websites and device manufacturers who profit from enabling music piracy,” stated a campaign release. “It’s time to stop the plundering of one of Canada’s greatest resources namely the creativity and innovation of songwriters and musicians.”

According to ole, the goal of the Stop Corporate Music Piracy campaign is to convince Canada’s Conservative Government to recall or amend Bill C-11, on the basis that it protects technology, broadcast and Internet companies that profit from piracy; eliminating existing rights enjoyed by songwriters and musicians; and fails to help the legitimate digital content marketplace.

“Songwriting and music publishing is an important Canadian business that contributes significantly to Canada’s culture, economy and tax base,” stated ole President Michael McCarty. “The current bill does nothing to help create the conditions required for a fair and open market where rights owners can negotiate appropriate compensation from those who profit from our music.”

“The Bill has a clear bias in favor of the technology, broadcast and Internet industries. Under the banner of ‘protecting innovation’ it allows these industries to monetize their innovations on the back of ours, without the creators being fairly rewarded,” McCarty added. “Discriminating in favor of one group of industries over another does not serve the interests of Canadians.”

Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers are striving to protect the rights of their constituents.

Heavily based on the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is described as a bill intended “to promote prosperity, creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation by combating the theft of U.S. property, and for other purposes.”

According to Act sponsor and House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, the measure is intended to combat rogue websites that steal and sell American innovations while operating with impunity beyond American jurisdictions; and would dramatically alter the current DMCA notice and takedown regimen.

“The online thieves who run these foreign websites are out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement agencies and profit from selling pirated goods without any legal consequences,” Smith stated. “The Stop Online Piracy Act helps stop the flow of revenue to rogue websites and ensures that the profits from American innovations go to American innovators.”

While the Act seeks to provide more authority to the Justice Department to deal with foreign websites, it has raised eyebrows domestically over its provisions enabling not only government agencies but intellectual property rights holders to demand third party intervention; such as the cessation of hosting services, payment processing, advertising and traffic deals that may involve websites suspected of copyright infringement or other illegal activities.

Some opponents see the move as bringing the Internet one step closer to censorship.

“The new House legislation (HR 3271) is an unwarranted expansion of government power to protect one special interest,” Public Knowledge co-founder Gigi Sohn stated. “At a time when Congress and the Obama Administration are trying to cut back on sweeping, overbroad regulation, we are disappointed that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith and his co-sponsors have chosen this means of establishing a vast new regulatory regime over the Internet.”

Academics are also chiming in on the issue.

According to Joan Cheverie of EduCause, SOPA not only repeats the mistakes of PIPA, it broadens and extends its scope. 

“This bill appears to impose sweeping new risks and responsibilities on websites offering legitimate online services and gives rights holders expanded authority to use against any online service they believe is not doing enough to police infringement,” Cheverie stated, outlining three problematic provisions for network operators, including the burden of ISPs being required to take action against the U.S. Attorney General’s list of intellectual property rights-infringing websites; modifications to the DNS system; and the disruption of business models based on the DMCA Safe Harbor provisions.

One example of the latter is adult tube sites and other user-generated content sites.

It’s clear that competing interests covering the gamut of creatives and publishers are vying for dominance in the battle over intellectual property rights; with those rights, and the entire legislative process, not as easy for stakeholders and lawmakers to make sense of as it may seem.

One thing is certain today: when a technological solution to freely obtain premium digital content is available, it will be used, legal or not; so for many rights-holders, giving up on the fight against piracy is simply not an option.

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