White House Issues New Plan to Curb Piracy
The White House will encourage search engines, cyberlockers and domain name registrars to come up with voluntary agreements with Hollywood and other industries to curb online piracy of movies, TV shows and music, as the prospects for future significant anti-infringement legislation on Capitol Hill have stalled.
The efforts by the administration to reduce infringement were outlined on Thursday in a strategic plan released by Victoria Espinel, the White House’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, who has been dubbed the “copyright czar.”
Espinel’s report indicated that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office would study the effectiveness of voluntary agreements that are now in place. This includes a recently launched “copyright alert” system that the movie and record industries launched along with major Internet providers earlier this year, in which consumers who repeatedly download pirated content are sent warnings, with the possibility of having their service slowed after the 5th or 6th such notice. The system has been dubbed “six strikes,” although users do not face having their service shut down altogether if they continue to access pirated content.
Nevertheless, even as agreements have also been reached with credit card companies and ad firms, as a way of choking off the flow of money to pirate sites, reaching a deal with search engines is a high hurdle. There is still considerable friction between the MPAA and the Recording Industry Assn. of America and search giant Google, and any agreement would probably be a long time coming.
To that end, Espinel’s report makes a point of asking content creators, like studios and record labels, to establish their own set of “best practices,” or voluntary standards that the industry should follow in pursuing infringement claims. In a conference call with reporters, Espinel said that the administration has been asking the tech sector to establish such guidelines over the past few years, but “we think it is important for rights holders to enter in to best practices as well.” She suggested that such a move would help in negotiations. “We think it is important that everyone be at the table working together,” she said.
Tech firms have complained that some content creators have engaged in copyright abuse, such as the filing of frivolous claims or of seeking takedowns of content for which they do not own the rights. Others have complained that obtaining the rights to certain types of music and other content is cumbersome given the instant demands of the digital age.
Showbiz trade associations have been pursuing voluntary agreements after the experience with the Stop Online Piracy Act, a major piece of legislation to combat foreign piracy sites that was sidelined in Congress last year after a storm of protest from Internet users.
Cary Sherman, CEO of the RIAA, said in a statement that “just as we are asking others to redouble their efforts to build a better online marketplace for users and creators alike, we recognize that we have an obligation to be constructive and examine steps we can undertake to help achieve that end.” He cited an agreement that labels and music publishers reached last week to free up more music for licensing, via a system of “micro-licensing” for ancillary uses, like corporate retreats or wedding videos.