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Same Script, Different Context: Increased Access to Legitimate Content Reduces Piracy

  • date icon October 17, 2014
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It’s the age old [Internet] question:  what should be done to curb online piracy?  


While there is widespread consensus that online piracy is challenging given the scale and scope of the Internet, the answer to this age old question depends on who you ask.  

Suggested policy solutions range from pure self-regulation; to voluntary multi-stakeholder processes think the current DMCA multi-stakeholder process driven by the USPTO; to subtle pushes for legislative solutions.  

Currently, the United States House Judiciary IP Subcommittee is in the middle of its comprehensive review of the U.S. Copyright Act in light of the digital age.  As the conversation regarding the effectiveness of the copyright system in the  digital era rages on, it is clear that a “one size fits all” policy solution is not practical.  In previous iterations of this debate, increased online piracy was often attributed to a narrow list of culprits, most notably search engine results.  However, this narrow focus fails to account for the trending marketplace realities and consumer behavior.  

This week’s events alone are a strong indication that the digital marketplace is rapidly evolving and recent innovations and product launches have propelled us into a dramatically different, online context.  Principally, the lines between platforms and content providers are increasingly blurring.

What Happened?

  • ‘Winter Is Coming’:  HBO, the cable channel that brought us Game of Thrones announced earlier this week that in 2015, the network will offer a stand alone, over-the-top web-streaming service in the United States to capture more of the 80 million homes that currently don’t have access to the network. This service will compete directly with existing services like Netflix.  In a statement following this announcement, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said, “…competition will drive us both to be better.”

  • We Want In: Shortly after HBO’s announcement and post the Supreme Court’s Aereo’s decision in favor of the network, CBS announced its “CBS All Access” digital subscription service search to launch in its top 14 markets.  For about $6 a month, the service will offer on demand episodes of its top primetime shows after their air live as well as episodes from previous seasons of its programs. CBS CEO Les Moonves said this move is intended to “capitalize on technological advances that help consumers engage with our world-class programming.”  

  • Making Moves: Google is moving full steam ahead in its quest to help Internet users effectively and efficiently reach legitimate sources of content.  The search company just rolled out three key features to help this effort including:

  1. Changing up its ad formats related to search results on music and movie queries:  Now, when you search for a movie or song of your choice, Google will prominently display authorized platforms offering legitimate content such as Amazon, Netflix, and even its own Google Play.
  2. Improving its DMCA demotion signal in Search:  Google has refined its 2012 tools to downgrade websites that receive large volumes of valid DMCA notices. which it thinks will noticeably impact the rankings of these illegitimate sites. Expect this to go live globally next week.
  3. Autocompletion Changes: Google will also be removing additional terms from autocomplete (based on DMCA removal notices) that are typically associated with piracy.
  • There’s More: In addition to rolling out these features, YouTube recently announced that Content ID – its system to help creators identify their respective works on the platform and then monetize the distribution of these works – has generated a whooping $1 billion for its partners that participate in the program.  Also, YouTube just announced its first ever NY production studio to help its artists refine their skills.  To get the full scope of what Google is doing to fight piracy, check out their new report here.

What Does This All Mean?

It’s simple – the marketplace is working, and the market can act more nimbly and effectively than regulation can.  

In 2008, a “Digital Entertainment Survey” found that a perceived lack of choice in legal alternatives contributes to online infringement.  And, according to Ipsos, the introduction of legal alternatives such as Spotify and Netflix was followed by dramatic reductions in online infringement of music and videos – 80% and 50%, respectively.   Furthermore, Sandvine found that BitTorrent traffic used to account for about 60% of online traffic, but in recent years due to services like Netflix, Spotify, and YouTube, this percentage has plummeted to less than 10%.

The takeaway…

Healthy marketplace competition in providing availability and access to legal alternatives of content are critical to meeting consumers demands. The current U.S. copyright system continues to allow for a dynamic and flexible digital environment where creators can adequately protect their works while also allowing for new and innovative products and services.  Industry efforts and marketplaces solutions are proven methods to address the challenges presented by online piracy and should be encouraged through sound copyright policy.