Saturday, December 20, 2008

Copyright Conundrum

Suing individuals for suspected illegal downloading of music via peer to peer is a bit like King Canute trying to hold back the incoming tide. Now 5 years and 35,000 cases later the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has apparently conceded and decided to stop suing individuals. It now has reportedly reached agreements with several Internet service providers to intervene on their behalf.

So they now shift from a lost public relations battle which had targeted individuals, included elderly couples, children, single mothers and in one instance a dead person, to one focused to look a better focused legal actions.

The RIAA will continue to monitor networks for illegal action and notify the ISPs on any findings asking them either to warn consumers or, in the case of repeat offenders, to deny access or service. The outcome is not clear today as the ISPs themselves are now starting to change their models and align closer to the content but it only takes one ISP to say no and a potentially and costly battle starts.

In January the UK’s Publishers Association is to launch a copyright infringement portal allowing publishers to pool information and identify repeat infringers. The site has been funded by a number of leading publishers and allows members will be able to log infringements which will be automatically sent to the ISP. Obviously as the content is unique then it’s the identification of repeated infringement that is key along with the visibility of the community to potential infringers. The site will obviously assist in gathering evidence for any resultant legal action.

Copyright infringement is not going away, has always existed but is now getting easier. Locking down the digital copy and preventing its abuse doesn’t stop the dedicated thief who is often willing to copy the physical and convert it. Digital watermarking is an obvious route to help deter digital piracy and monitoring but again doesn’t prevent the physical copy being used.

So where does the buck stop? Is at the individual who buys it, the seller or provider, the ISP who enables it to happen, the search engine who indexes it and enables people to find it, or all the above? There maybe a clear legal answer but even the RIAA appear to have realised that the need to be more selective and go for the point of consolidation. However the ISP may plug one hole to find another popping open next to it.

Beating up ISPs after the event is not necessarily productive and maybe the problem is that we haven’t helped bodies such as ISPs and search engines determine who owns what? Perhaps expressing the rights as we do is not enough and we now need to couple it with an individual watermarked licence to use which can be proactively detected but there again this hasn’t stopped software and games being infringed.

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