Rats Abound in the Guise of Pirates
Piracy is clearly a plague on the Web. Sites that foster wholesale copyright infringement with illegal downloads or counterfeit goods make money for crooks at the expense of legitimate creators. Regrettably, there is sufficient disrespect for intellectual property rights that unauthorized copying and distribution is a very lucrative business. Today’s thieves make Napster look like pure amateurs.
The debate on how to address piracy, however, is complicated. Certainly, aggressive law enforcement is one approach. But there simply are not enough cops to chase the hordes of infringers.
One suggestion has been to encourage advertisers not to spend any of their marketing dollars on pirate sites. Without ad support, the wrongdoers will find it more difficult to finance their crimes. But it’s not so simple. While there are known sites operated by pirates that should be shunned by advertisers, many other sites are not so black and white. In addition, tracking everywhere an ad migrates on the Internet, while possible, is not that easy without devoting a lot of time and money. Nor is it fair to assume advertisers should become the Net Police where traditional law enforcement fails (although that is certainly a direction many lawmakers favor). And of course, at least in the United States, there are serious free speech and First Amendment issues as well.
In response, President Barak Obama tasked White House staffer, Victoria Espinel — the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator — to work with industry towards a solution.
After years of efforts, Ms. Espinel announced on July 15, 2013 that “…24/7 Media, Adtegrity, AOL, Condé Nast, Google, Microsoft, SpotXchange, and Yahoo!, with the support of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, committed to a set of best practices to address online infringement by reducing the flow of ad revenue to operators of sites engaged in significant piracy and counterfeiting.”
A step in the right direction, albeit with criticism from the usual pundits who would find fault in motherhood and apple pie if given the chance. Regardless, time will tell whether these new guidelines will be adopted universally and be effective against the many pirate sites that have not agreed to the standards (and are unlikely ever to do so).
But far more important is the need to educate Web surfers of the harm done when they aid and abet pirates by downloading or purchasing unauthorized copies or knockoffs of intellectual property. Until users are instilled with a sense of responsibility, all the standards in the world will not stem the flood of infringement.
So before the lawmakers and pundits criticize marketers or expect them to ramp up their policing of the Net, they should address the real problem – a global rejection of intellectual property laws by everyday users of the Internet and the lack of any meaningful international effort by global leaders to find a solution. While the White House effort and its 2013 Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement are a start, only an international movement will bring about meaningful change.
We Expert Doug Wood