ArtsWatch: Infringing Websites — One Bill To Zap Them All?

S. 3804 proposes enforcement fast lane to go after pirate websites and their money

GRAMMY.com
Philip Merrill

The Recording Academy actively represents the music community on such issues as intellectual property rights, music piracy, archiving and preservation, and censorship concerns. In pursuing its commitment to addressing these and other issues, The Recording Academy undertakes a variety of national initiatives. ArtsWatch is a key part of an agenda aimed at raising public awareness of and support for the rights of artists. To become more involved, visit Advocacy Action @ GRAMMY.com and sign up for Advocacy Action E-lerts.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the bipartisan bill S. 3804, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, on Sept. 20 to empower the Department of Justice with expedited procedures against online piracy. Under the bill, the Attorney General would be able to obtain a court order against the domain name of a website primarily dedicated to infringement, and then either order a U.S.-based registrar to suspend the domain name or, if the site is based abroad, order third-party service providers to cease doing business with the website. Leahy said, "American consumers are too often deceived into thinking the products they are purchasing are legitimate because the websites reside at familiar-sounding domain names and are complete with corporate advertising, credit card acceptance and advertising links that make them appear legitimate." The ability to deprive foreign Internet pirates of payments from U.S. customers and advertising would be a boon to the U.S. creative community. The bill was welcomed by MPAA, NMPA and RIAA, and opposed by Electronic Frontier Foundation. Getting this bill through Congress with just a few months left on the legislative calendar appears challenging, but if delay defeats momentum, S. 3804's legislative approach seems likely to live on after next year's lawmakers are sworn in.

The website of Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel now links to August's first-ever edition of the newsletter Intellectual Property Spotlight. Espinel said, "We want to highlight the significant work that the U.S. Government is doing to combat infringement." Those wishing to subscribe are encouraged to e-mail her office at intellectualproperty@omb.eop.gov.

On Sept. 21 European Parliament passed an e-commerce harmonization resolution supporting efforts to promote cross-border confidence — including the creation of a standard pan-European "trust mark" to be displayed by websites that comply with good practices.

On Sept. 22 European Parliament passed a copyright harmonization resolution by adopting a report prepared by French member Marielle Gallo. Gallo's report won out over more permissive alternatives. While it insists Europe's intellectual property framework is not strong enough, it also calls for the protection of many rights and permissions that favor individuals. Billboard.biz's coverage helps explain what comes next, as this important vote will now influence the development of a new proposal.

Sweden's Pirate Party vowed to fight on despite winning so few votes in Sweden's general election that its results are lumped in a 1.4 percent "other" category. In a Sept. 20 blog post, party representatives committed to future activism and trying to repeat last year's electoral success — a seat in European Parliament achieved by winning 7 percent of Sweden's popular vote.

On Sept. 20 the World Intellectual Property Organization launched WIPO Lex, an online resource providing researchers with unprecedented access to the intellectual property laws and regulations of more than 160 countries. WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said, "WIPO Lex has enabled us, for the first time, to consolidate the IP laws of member states and IP treaties and to make them available in a detailed and fully searchable format." This expands the organization's WIPO GOLD research portal, which launched in June. Separately, on the same day, GRAMMY winner Stevie Wonder spoke to the delegates at WIPO's annual meeting about the special needs of the visually impaired. Wonder said, "While I know that it is critical not to act to the detriment of the authors who labor to create the great works that enlighten and nourish our minds, hearts and souls, we must develop a protocol that allows the easy import and export of copyright materials so that people with print disabilities can join the mainstream of the literate world.... Please work it out or I'll have to write a song about what you didn't do."

Over the Sept. 18–19 weekend, hacker activists attacked the websites of MPAA and RIAA, causing some periods in which the sites were unavailable. Luis Corrons, technical director for computer security expert PandaLabs, said, "The most significant aspect of this event, in addition to the damage caused, is that it could mark the first mass cyber protest of its kind on the Web. Numerous anonymous users have joined forces and pooled their resources toward a common cause over Internet rights. This attack is an example of the potential for future cyber protests and the difficulty in pinpointing and stopping them."

Computer chip manufacturer Intel confirmed on Sept. 16 that a leading chip-based content protection scheme used in many video devices was permanently compromised by a well-publicized hack. Consumer advocates Public Knowledge could not resist crowing "I told you so" because of their long-standing fight against MPAA's plans for "selectable output control" — a battle PK lost in May when the Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau granted MPAA a limited waiver to use the now-hacked technology. Unlike software-based hacks, this circumvention requires hardware chips to be specially manufactured, and a new market for illegal hacking devices along with related challenges for law enforcement can probably be expected. But when Public Knowledge complains this hack means selectable output control was just so much wasted effort, that is an overstatement.