Policing internet piracy: Tougher laws against online pirates are needed, but a proposal in Congress could hit law-abiding businesses
Posted in: Government & Policy at 25/11/2011 16:10
No matter what the "content-should-be-free" crowd says, copyright theft robs artists and businesses of their livelihoods. Creative industries employ millions of people in the advanced world (and could be a rung on the ladder for poorer countries too, if, say, unscrupulous European content thieves did not habitually purloin the efforts of African musicians).
The damage may be less than the annual $135 billion that the entertainment and publishing industries claim. These firms could change their business models to reduce the pirates' profits, especially in countries where an album costs a day's wages. But mispricing does not justify crime.
So far, attempts to stop online piracy have largely failed. Lawsuits did shut down file-sharing services such as Napster and Grokster, but others have taken their place -- such as Pirate Bay and the new "cyberlockers" that operate in hard-to-reach jurisdictions. Many users of these sites think they are swapping, not stealing, material. But the cyberlockers make money with extra charges for heavy users.
To read this report in The Economist in full, see:
Online piracy: An American anti-piracy bill tries to stem the global theft of intellectual property
Illegal copying and sharing of copyrighted material is hard enough to stop within a country. But when the internet takes traffic across borders it is almost unmanageable. American-owned intellectual property, say, may be uploaded in one country and downloaded in a second, via a website whose computers are in a third, operated by anonymous enthusiasts (or criminals) from goodness-knows-where. So whom do you sue, and in which courts? The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), now before America's Congress, is the latest of many recent attempts to defend property rights on the internet.
The bill aims to cut off Americans' access to foreign pirate websites by squeezing intermediaries. Rights-holders, such as Hollywood film studios, will be able to request that a credit-card firm or advertising network stop doing business with a foreign site; or ask a search engine to take down links to the site; or ask an internet-service provider to block the site's domain name, making it harder to reach. The intermediary then has just five days to comply or rebut the complaint; after that the rights-holder can go to court.