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MPAA says self-policing internet no longer working

Content security

The MPAA wants the federal government’s help with content piracy. It wants internet platforms held accountable for promoting pirated content; the WHOIS registry maintained to track down illegal site owners, and a cross-government effort to bring pirates to justice.

MPAA asks NTIA for help

MLast week the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) responded to an inquiry (PDF) from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on what the NTIA’s International internet policy priorities should be. The response, authored by Neil Fried, SVP of the MPAA, talked about the threats to the general public’s trust in the internet, including “fake news” and personal data security. However, the thrust of the response was asking the NTIA for help with content piracy.

The MPAA focused its response on three issues which it says can help in promoting a “safe, secure, and sustainable internet:”

  • Platform responsibility generally;
  • Governance of ICANN and promotion of robust, public access to WHOIS data in accordance with local law; and
  • The growth of streaming piracy devices and applications.

Each issue can be related directly back to piracy.

Platform responsibility

The MPAA is not happy with the limitations on liability given to online platforms. It says that Congress gave internet platforms exceptional rights 20 years ago that no brick-and-mortar business had. It allowed internet platforms to exercise complete control over their business and be free from the risk of liability to promote their growth. In return for this freedom, Mr. Fried says the government expected the nascent industry to police itself. He says self-policing is no longer working:

“The quid of statutory liability limitations was premised on the expected quo of online platforms acting responsibly and voluntarily to combat online abuses in an effective way. Many of the platforms are not living up to that bargain.”

The upshot for the MPAA is that illicit content, infringing on the IP of content holders, is now freely available through legitimate internet platforms. These platforms take no action to remove the illicit content. Though he does not seek additional platform regulations, Mr. Fried wants the government to force them to obey the law:

“Applying the rule of law and holding platforms accountable—based on longstanding judicial standards—when they fail to stop illicit activity they know about or that is reasonably foreseeable, is not the same thing as regulation.”

Maintaining WHOIS data

Every website owner is required by ICANN[i] to provide identification information. This information is accessible to anyone through the WHOIS database.[ii] The MPAA is nervous that modifications to the WHOIS registry required for compliance with the EU’s new strict data privacy regulations, GDPR, will make it harder to figure out the owner of the website. Moreover, that will make it harder to track down content pirates:

“We hope the NTIA will help ensure ICANN, registries, and registrars are enforcing obligations that prohibit domain holders from using domain names in connection with illicit conduct.”

Curb the growth of streaming piracy devices and applications

Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment ACE logoThe MPAA is already doing a lot to curb the sale of devices such as Kodi boxes and illegal content distribution services. For example, it has formed a coalition called the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE) with companies such as Netflix, Amazon, and movie studios. ACE has initiated three civil lawsuits against companies distributing piracy devices and pirated content. The MPAA wants the NTIA to step up its efforts to help. It wants NTIA to lean on other agencies within the Federal Government to bring criminal actions. The agencies it specifically calls out include:

  • Customers and Border Control, to help control illegal streaming device trafficking
  • The FTC to bring fraud cases against distributors of the devices

The MPAA would also like NTIA to raise the issue with foreign governments and to help educate consumers and policymakers on the issues.

Why it matters

The MPAA wants the government to do more to curb piracy.

It urges action in three key areas:

  • Make internet platforms accountable for promoting pirated content
  • Maintain the WHOIS registry and push ICANN to stop issuing domains to pirates
  • a cross-government effort to bring pirates to justice.

[i] ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

[ii] To test this out, go to whois.icann.org, and type in your favorite website

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(2) Comments

  1. Box office numbers are rising every single year. Where is the actual “threat” from piracy? If they’re upset about not selling enough plastic discs anymore, they clearly missed the part where streaming video wrecked that market, not piracy.

    This “Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment” is probably being put in place to ensure that nobody else can be creative without their permission. Modern copyright law, which the MPAA lobbied so hard for, is wrecking it for the rest of us.

  2. Colin
    This will not solve the problem. I applaud the MPAA for their efforts but having lived this problem for years here in HK I can tell you that their approach is not holistic enough. It only views it from the content providers POV and assumes someone like the ISPs can be pressured to make it go away for them!
    Pirate content is usually extra-territorial, not held on domestic ISP providers servers. Domestic infringers can be caught and prosecuted much more easily.
    What is needed is a process where content owners can submit a statutory declaration citing a URL that is hosting pirate content and then the regulatory authority responsible for policing the digital borders (same as policing the physical borders, such as Customs and Excise Department) upon receipt of the declaration, issues a mandatory blocking order to all domestic ISPs to block the infringing URL. Could even be done at the IXC.

    This can all be automated.

    If, after the event the Content Provider providing the statutory declaration was found to be fraudulent or frivolous regarding the nature of the site, then slap a big fine on him.
    If automated and can activated within minutes, then it wont take long before folks give up trying to watch and the game of Whack-a-Mole is over!

    Of course this all starts with the creation of a legal and regulatory framework which identifies pirate streaming content and allows such policing of the digital borders.

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