The UK must tackle pirates by talking to consumers before applying sanctions, argues Eddy Leviten,
head of communications at the Federation Against Copyright Theft.
Piracy has been casting a shadow over the film industry for three decades and criminals have changed their methods as digital copying has become ever cheaper and easier. What has been happening in recent years is that organised criminal networks have become involved in manufacturing, distributing and selling counterfeit DVDs, and it is apparent the attractions have been a high-volume, high-margin, high-profit business.
“There is a way to protect the rights of the content creators without compromising internet users’ freedom”
Eddy Leviten, Federation Against Copyright Theft
What has not been clear until recently is how criminals are finding ways to profit from online distribution of stolen audiovisual content. Investigations worldwide by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact) and Motion Picture Association now often find evidence that the geeks have turned into entrepreneurs, profiting from advertising revenues and site donations — as demonstrated by the Pirate Bay prosecution. In this area we are clear: criminal legal actions will be taken against these illegal businesses.
What has been less clear if you read the newspapers and blogs is the way to deal with the mass of file sharers for whom films and TV programmes are merely another free acquisition. Fact has been involved in the negotiations brokered by the UK government to find a way to tackle the problem of file sharing and has been campaigning for a sensible and practical solution.
We believe there is a way to protect the rights of the content creators and distributors (and thus the livelihoods of the people who work across the whole of the value chain as well as support services) without compromising the rights or freedom of those internet users who are not involved in sharing illicit files.
This is dependent on ISPs recognising that, as the point of access, they have a duty to deter and prevent such content crossing their networks. The recent charter signed by a unique coalition bringing together the entertainment unions and a broad spectrum of rights owners across the entertainment industries made this clear.
The media have picked up on the French “three strikes and you’re out” proposal (soon to be law) and have assumed that this is what would happen in the UK.
The situation here is different — while there has to be an ultimate sanction for serial and persistent infringers who are often making large numbers of files available, there also needs to be a fair and proportionate means of dealing with more casual offenders who merely need a nudge to stop. There are a number of technical measures readily available which could be employed to deter persistent infringers which fall short of terminating an ISP account.
Supporting this there would need to be a simple consumer education campaign to explain why it is wrong to download, upload or share files that are not obtained through legitimate means. We know there is some genuine ignorance as to what is and is not legal online, and we also have to ensure there is a clear push towards the growing array of legal services that are already available.
The excellent work done by Film Education, the Industry Trust and the UK Film Council in these areas needs to be bolstered to give a consistent message. And in the background, Fact will still be there to target the most serious offenders as well as the release groups, scammers and criminal businesses that continue to try to profit from the hard work and creativity of others.
PIRACY: PROFITS AND LOSSES
- UK audiovisual industries are losing $793m (£500m) a year due to copyright theft, equating to a total economic loss to the UK economy of $1.9bn (£1.2bn).
Source: Oxford Economics
- 3.2 million counterfeit DVDs were seized in 2008 in the UK (up 20% on 2007); over the same period, 2,588 DVD burners were seized.
- Streaming of illicit content online is becoming much more prevalent, with sites hosting or linking to the stream generating revenues from advertising that can be tens of thousands of dollars a month. Pirate Bay was making over $1m a year in profits from advertising.
Sources: Fact; Pirate Bay prosecutor
- Camcording is still the main source for counterfeit copies of new release movies; exhibition and distribution are working together to reduce UK recordings. Over £5,000 has been paid out in rewards to cinema staff for preventing illegal recordings in the last couple of years. Training and advice updated at www.fightfilmtheft.org.uk.