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The Problem of Internet Piracy Gains Attention

  • Chelsea McNutt

The Internet has opened doors and avenues of communication never thought possible half a century ago. The availability of information on the Internet extends to a great variety of digital media. Movies, music, software programs, video games, and other content can be accessed for free through many file-sharing networks and sites. However, the vast majority of this shared content is protected under copyright laws, and unauthorized distribution, also known as piracy, is illegal. The extensive copyright infringement found online has caused record, film, and other content industries to take action against file-sharers of illegal materials.

Appearing on VOA News Now’s Encounter program, Fritz Attaway, executive vice president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and Alex Curtis, director of policy and new media at the advocacy group, Public Knowledge, emphasized two types of piracy. There is "traditional piracy," which is commercial and involves bootlegged copies of content being distributed and sold by unauthorized parties. Illegal file sharing, on the other hand, is what Fritz Attaway describes as "free riding" because the users are not paying to view or own the copyrighted materials. Often, no money is being made from such distribution, but it still results in a loss of revenue for copyright holders who would otherwise be paid for their content.

Alex Curtis does not necessarily condone “free riding” but says it occurs because the music or movie industries are not meeting consumer demand for faster releases, flexible content and reasonable prices. Mr. Attaway argues that the answer to these demands is not to circumvent legal ways of obtaining copyrighted materials but rather to create business models that meet customers' demands.

The issue of flexibility is one of the foremost causes of illegal file sharing. Many programs allow users to manipulate content in ways that are not legal under current copyright restrictions, such as breaking technological "locks" on DVDs to copy them onto a personal computer. These locks are encoded into the DVD to prevent unauthorized uses. The U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed into law in 1998, encompasses this addition to digital media protection. Mr. Attaway endorses this provision and believes the law is just fine as it is.

In contrast, Alex Curtis expresses some reservations about the DMCA. He says that, while the law was "well-intentioned," it has had some unintended consequences that are harmful to consumers' rights. In particular is the limitation on "fair use." Mr. Curtis explains that fair use is reserved for "criticism, comment, news-reporting, educational uses, and it’s very much akin to the concept of free speech." Under U.S. copyright law, copyrighted materials may be used legally without permission if the use is "fair." The problem with the DMCA is that it does not take into account "fair use" when it comes to breaking technological locks on content. All such circumvention is considered illegal.

In many other countries, similar laws are used to provide for “fair use” and to enforce copyright law. Fritz Attaway says that "we're trying to work with countries to update their laws" so that copyright infringement is curbed. This is essential in a world where information can be digitally accessed anywhere on the globe. Although progress is certain, it may still be some time before old business models adjust to the fast-paced world of digital technology.

For full audio of the program Encounter click here.

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