Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a Thursday press conference with the administration's intellectual property enforcement coordinator to outline the government's new strategy to protect the nation's copyright holders. In the speech, the VP did not, in any way, mince words. " But piracy is theft. Clean and simple. It's smash and grab. It ain't no different than smashing a window at Tiffany's and grabbing [merchandise]," said Biden.
The guidelines contain 33 recommendations. One major point is an intention to work with foreign governments to shut down infringing websites. As expected, Hollywood studios applaud the new list of recommendations. The movie and music industries contend that they are losing billions of dollars to piracy, though many have disputed the numbers. Biden also commented that ISPs should be cooperating with entertainment industry efforts to penalize users. He was likely referring to various plans for so-called "three strikes" rules that would result in users being disconnected after repeated accusations of infringement.
The document also discussed more conventional counterfeit product smuggling, but the online piracy talk stole the show. The tone was a little heavy-handed, but we should remember this is basically just a document of ideas. It's unclear what sort of enforcement activities may per pursued. Where do you come down on the issue?
I said that the RIAA and the MPAA had forgotten what business they’re in. They think they’re in the business of selling discs. They’ve forgotten that they’re in the business of delivering entertainment.
In the comment section that followed the piece, a poster identified as Mark17 asked: “Why should I pay for music, movies, or software when I can get them for free?”
I’m going to answer that question, Mark17. But I don’t think you’re going to like the answer.
First, send me your address.
I’m going to walk into your house/condo/apartment/trailer uninvited. I’m going to go to your fridge. I’m going to take out the steak you were saving for Sunday barbecue and grill it for myself. I’m going to help myself to a couple of bottles of beer and the chocolate ice cream in the freezer too. On my way out, I’ll take a few books from your shelves, maybe some DVDs I’d like to watch, and I’ll take your MP3 player too. Maybe I’ll pick up your car keys and drive off in your 72 Pinto, if I’m feeling suicidal.
And no, you can’t complain. Why should I pay for your property when I can take it for free?
What’s that you say, Mr. Mark17? That I’m stealing from you? That’s funny you should say that.
Taking a leaf out of the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) book, the producers of the Hurt Locker on Monday instituted legal proceedings against people who illegally downloaded the critically acclaimed film from the internet. Voltage Pictures, the production company responsible for the film, fired the first salvo in the form of a copyright infringement complaint against 5,000 people. The scope of the complaint might even be expanded to accommodate more downloaders later on.
“The true names of Defendants are unknown to the Plaintiff at this time. Each Defendant is known to the Plaintiff only by the Internet Protocol (“IP”) address assigned to the Defendant by his or her Internet Service Provider on the date and at the time which the infringing activity of each Defendant was observed,” reads the complaint.
Voltage Pictures told the court that it will amend the complaint to reflect the true names of the defendants as and when it is able to identify them. And yes, the complaint also mentions the Hurt Lockers's amazing feat of six Oscar victories (probably in a bid to make a strong first impression).
The production company believes it is entitled to recover from the downloaders actual or statutory damages, costs of filing the suit and attorney fees. It is also seeking “injunctive relief” in the matter, asking the court to prohibit illegal downloaders from further downloading, pirating or hosting/storing unauthorized versions of its films.
Although RIAA has abandoned the mass lawsuit strategy, the contagion seems to be sweeping the film industry, with a consortium of film studios called the US Copyright Group filing a similar complaint against 20,000 downloaders in March.
First disclaimer: Nothing that follows is intended to be read as an endorsement of piracy, only some thoughts about it as a social phenomenon, and what it might tell us about product demand.
Second disclaimer: I have published over fifty books and a few hundred short stories, columns, and articles, most of which I own the copyrights on. I’ve also contributed scripts to a dozen different TV series, and although I do not own any of those copyrights, I am entitled to residual participation on those television copyrights. And I have a financial interest in one movie, Martian Child, which is (loosely) based on the story of my son’s adoption. So I am not unbiased on the issue of copyrights and ownership.
Third disclaimer: I don’t like piracy, I don’t advocate it, I don’t endorse it, I don’t condone it—but despite my disapproval, people still keep downloading illegal copies of music, TV shows, books, comics and graphic novels, magazines, software, keygens, cracks, and hacks.
So, let’s look at all that downloading.
Start with the obvious. People download music and software and movies and TV shows because they want it. They want to listen to the music, watch the movie, play the game, use the software tool, read the book, look at the fanedit, hear or see the mashup, whatever.
The owners of the copyright don’t object to people wanting the product. In fact, they want you to want it. But they also want you pay for it. It’s how they stay in business—but sometimes it leads to shortsighted decisions, especially if you don’t know what business you’re in.
China is not only vying for the top economy crown but also breathing down America's neck in a panoply of key industries. Take for example the global PC market, where it is currently ranked second - just behind the US - with somewhere between 15 to 20 percent of all PC sales. Its rise to the top of the PC market is most likely to happen sometime this year.
So the soon-to-be world's biggest computer market must have the undivided attention of Microsoft then? Not really. Not until China respects intellectual property rights and clamps down on software piracy. Microsoft after all only owes 1 percent of its total revenue to the Chinese market. According to Steve Ballmer, the company sees greater promise in countries like India and Indonesia.
The Microsoft CEO told media persons in Singapore that intellectual property protection in these two countries is far better than China. He also shared his concern over the ongoing debt crisis in Europe. Ballmer fears a possible global fallout from Europe's debt crisis.
“Why consoles?” It’s a question that plenty of formerly PC-exclusive developers have been asked, but few have tackled head-on. Instead, they’ve preferred to sidestep it in fear of stumbling right into a PR minefield. Epic President Mike Capps, however, has decided that honesty is the best policy – no matter how brutal that honesty might be.
“If you walked into [Epic's Offices] six years ago,” said Capps, “Epic was a PC company. We did one PS2 launch title, and everything else was PC. And now, people are saying ‘Why do you hate the PC? You’re a console-only company.’”
“And guess what? It’s because the money’s on console.”
“We still do PC, we still love the PC, but we already saw the impact of piracy: it killed a lot of great independent developers and completely changed our business model.”
There is a silver lining, however. Or maybe it’s the darkest part of all, depending on how you look at things. The Unreal Tournament and Gears of War developer concluded, after discussing – what else? -- FarmVille:
“So, maybe Facebook will save PC gaming, but it’s not going to look like Gears of War.”
Darn. And we were looking so forward to chainsawing our friends’ pigs in half after they asked us to fertilize their crops for the 346723th time.
Time Warner Cable doesn't necessarily have the greatest reputation when it comes to looking out for its customers best interests, but luckily for those who were unfortunate enough to try and pirate Uwe Boll's Far Cry 2 it will simply cost them too much to accommodate the lawyers. An independent DC legal outfit has requested the identity of more than 2,000 TWC customers, which in addition to exceeding their current staffing capabilities costs them approximately $45 each.
"Time Warner Cable does not have enough employees to respond to these requests. In a typical month, the company receives an average of 567 IP lookup requests, nearly all of them coming from law enforcement. These lookup requests involve everything from suicide threats to child abduction to terrorist activity, and the company says that such cases take "immediate priority."
The ISP's Subpoena Compliance team at Time Warner currently consists of four full-time workers and one temp who simply don't have enough hours in the day to honor all the requests. The company claims it currently has the capacity to handle about 28 non-critical subpoenas per month, which far exceeds the 809 in 30 days filed by the DC law firm.
One could argue that simply watching Uwe Boll's latest masterpiece is cruel and unusual punishment anyway, so the exact motivation behind the legal proceedings has us somewhat mystified. Perhaps they are hoping for a few glowing box quotes from pirates desperate to avoid a criminal record to help overshadow all the crummy reviews.
Automated technology to detect pirated content has been tried before, but the results are usually a mess of false positives and misses. NEC claims their new video identification system can succeed where the others have failed. According to NEC, the technology has a detection rate of 96% and a suspiciously good false positive rate of 1 in 5 million.
The NEC detection system works by creating a digital fingerprint from the original content. The files are 76 bytes in size per frame, making storage of many fingerprints doable. The system can work with scenes as short as two seconds; say goodbye to fair use. NEC is also claiming it can detect content that has been altered by converting it from digital to analog, or filming in a theater. It is unclear if a video can be manipulated sufficiently to evade the filter.
The technology is on its way to being integrated into the upcoming MPEG-7 media standard. We'll be interested to see if NEC is promising more than it can deliver here. It sounds like Star Trek level tech to us.
While Apple has had to push back the iPad’s global launch, citing huge demand in the US, it is business as usual for Chinese bootleggers. In fact, they are wallowing in the iPad’s absence as this gives them more time to lure some potential iPad customers towards cheap knockoffs. iPad clones have just begun hitting the Chinese market.
A brace of journalists, working for the news agency Reuters, discovered one such clone in the Southern Chinese city of Shenzhen. Based on their account, the clone appears to be a corpulent version of the original. Also, unlike the original, the fake iPad runs Windows 7 and costs only 2,800 yuan ($410). A myriad of similar knockoffs can also be found on some of the most popular online marketplaces in China.
In April 2009, Congress put the Government of Accountability Office (GAO) in charge of reviewing and analyzing just how bad piracy and illegal counterfeiting affects the United States. So what did the GAO find out? Not a whole lot, apparently.
"Three widely cited U.S. government estimates of economic losses resulting from counterfeiting cannot be substantiated due to the absence of underlying studies," the GAO said in a 32-page report issue this week. "Each method [of measuring] has limitations, and most experts observed that it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the economy-wide impacts."
Hollywood can't be pleased with the report, which was undoubtedly hoping for the GAC to paint a gloom and doom picture. That didn't quite happen, and in some cases, the GAC noted that some data even suggests that piracy may benefit consumers.
For the most part, however, the GAC did find that piracy is a big problem and harmful all around. The challenge is in figuring out to what extent piracy and anti-piracy efforts are hurting the economy, and there's just not enough data for that.
"The GAO study confirms that piracy of all sorts is rampant," said a spokesman for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA)." Getting a firm handle on the problem in terms of dollar estimates is complicated."