ITIF Report: Strategies for Reducing Digital Piracy

Earlier this month, The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) published a paper called Steal These Policies: Strategies for Reducing Digital Piracy. The aim of the paper is to advance a policy in which illegal sources of digital content is reduced while legal content becomes more accessible. The executive summary provides the following overview of the problem as follows:

“The rise of broadband Internet access and cheap storage, along with the growth of digital content, has enabled digital pi­racy to flourish around the world. Piracy enables the unau­thorized distribution of music, movies, television programs, software, video games, books, photos, and periodicals quickly and easily, to the detriment of creative artists and legitimate rights holders. These prac­tices threaten not only the robust production of digital content in the future, but U.S. jobs in the present. Unfortunately, many advocates, believing that information should be free, would have government not only turn a blind eye to digital piracy, but actively tie the hands of companies who seek to limit digital piracy. This report makes the case that digital piracy is a serious problem with significant ramifica­tions for the U.S. economy, that a number of approaches, including technical solutions such as content identification, are needed to reduce piracy, and that governments should support legitimate industry ef­forts to reduce digital piracy, including those that focus on the revenue streams of those engaging in piracy.”

The paper makes a number of policy recommendations including the following:

-Support, rather than impede, anti-piracy inno­vation, including the development of new technical means such as the use of digital rights manage­ment (DRM), network management, and content identification systems, to make piracy more difficult.

-Encourage coordinated industry action to take steps to fight digital piracy, including steps like ISP implementation of graduated response sys­tems.

-More actively pursue international frameworks and action to protect intellectual property, in­cluding digital content.

The paper also addresses arguments put forward by some advocacy groups that have condemned the use of technical controls largely “because they believe that copyright holders should have fewer rights and that piracy is not a problem” and because “such tools are ineffective, costly and destructive to the rights of Internet users.” The ITIF deals with these criticisms as follows:

“These criticisms, however, are flawed and inaccurate. Anti-piracy solutions, including con­tent identification technology such as watermarking and fingerprinting, are mature, highly accurate and widely available. The cost of these systems varies by implementation, but if the benefit in reduced piracy outweighs the cost of implementation, then it makes strategic sense to use the technology. These systems can easily be implemented with safeguards to ensure user privacy and protect free speech while still protect­ing the rights of copyright owners.”

The paper also addresses the fears that “anti-piracy measures would somehow violate the Internet archi­tecture.” According to the report:

“The Internet architecture is no more friendly to piracy than to law-abiding uses; the Internet was de­signed to serve as a testbed for experimentation with legitimate network applications, protocols, and ser­vices, not as a monument to technology as it existed at a particular moment in time. If the Internet has a central principle, it is one of continual improvement. As problems emerge in the use and management of the Internet, engineers devise solutions. With the advent of a global piracy industry, piracy has become a prob­lem that demands—and has produced—a number of solutions.

Additional technical controls may also help reduce pi­racy. ISPs and search engines could implement policies that block websites that host or link to pirated content. Pirated content is increasingly found not only on P2P networks, but also on websites for users to download or stream. These websites are supported by advertising or by selling the content to users. Blocking these web­sites at the ISP level and from search engine results, as well as pressuring advertising networks and credit card companies to refrain from supporting these websites, will help reduce this form of piracy.”

The report also recognizes that legal strategies also are a key tool to fight piracy. As noted above, one such strategy is the implementation of graduated response systems. The report points out that a number of countries, including France, the United King­dom, South Korea, and Taiwan have implemented or are in the process of implementing graduated response processes with safeguards in place to ensure citi­zens’ rights are protected.

A more detailed summary of the report is available online.

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