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Talk like an ONLINE Pirate? 4 recent developments in online piracy

James Watkins - Law on the Web

  1. 18 September 2015
  2. Miscellaneous
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Online pirate

Despite the efforts of authorities, film studios and record labels, online piracy has continued to run roughshod over the creative industries.

However, there have been new developments in the world of online piracy this year. For this year’s Talk Like a Pirate Day, we decided to have a look at what has been going on.

Police curbed advertisements on torrent sites

Back in 2013, it was estimated that piracy sites generated $227m (£145m) in revenue through advertising. The Met decided that they wouldn’t stand for this.

In response, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) launched “Operation Creative”, an initiative designed to discourage brands from advertising on sites which facilitate the illegal downloading of copyrighted material.

The belief was that torrent and other piracy sites could be starved out by cutting off advertising. Police also thought that seeing reputable brands advertising on such sites gave them an air of legitimacy, and that strangling that legitimacy would make would-be pirates think twice about using them.

The initiative has been successful in meeting its stated goals – in the two years it has been operating, advertising from the UK’s top ad-spending companies has fallen by 73%.

Head of PIPCU Peter Ratcliffe congratulated himself and his department for “[leading] the way with tackling copyright infringing sites by successfully disrupting advertising revenue”.

However, others have questioned how effective Operation Creative has been in actually reducing piracy.

“If a few [advertising] sectors do indeed pull out, others will automatically take their place, and the effect on the website's income may be negligible,” says Bendert Zevenbergen from the Oxford Internet Institute.

Ripping went from banned to worse

Ripping CDs, for all you youngsters out there, is how we used to put music on our computers before iTunes existed (assuming we wanted to get it legally).

However, this practice was illegal in the UK until last year, under rules which prevent users from making private copies of media they own.

Of course, this meant that anyone who wanted to listen to their physical music collection on their iPod or other generic MP3 player would have to buy digital versions of all of their CDs.

In practice, this law was rarely, if ever, enforced. This was bad news for the music industry, and for makers of personal CD players, who saw years of research into jog-proof technology go down the drain.

Relaxing regulations

This was changed by new regulations, introduced last October, which allowed people to rip CDs to their computers.

The rules allowed people to copy other media, such as eBooks, DVDs and Blu-rays and store them on their own devices or in the cloud.

However, they were still restricted from sharing those copies with other people, and they were only allowed to keep them while they owned the original – if you were to sell a CD, for example, it would be against the law to keep the MP3s.

These rule changes didn’t last long. In July, the High Court quashed the new regulations after a legal challenge by the Musicians’ Union, UK Music and the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors.

The music groups argued that the government had been negligent in their failure to introduce a compensation scheme for the music rights holders who would lose money as a result of the new regulations.

As a result, the rules are back to where they started.

Grooveshark closed under the weight of its own illegality

The music industry did claim one notable scalp recently: that of music-streaming site Grooveshark.

The site had a vast library of music assembled from MP3s uploaded by users – however, the site did not pay any royalties for this music, meaning that a lot of the music on there was being streamed illegally.

It had been pursued aggressively by a number of record companies for years.

Then, in April, the team behind Grooveshark abruptly announced that the site was closing with immediate effect, as part of a settlement with the record companies that were set to defeat them in court.

They also apologised for the “very serious mistake” of knowingly violating the copyrights of record companies and artists.

Grooveshark was revived a couple of months later on a website known as StreamSquid. The site’s founders claim it to be “100% legit” – it remains to be seen how the music industry feels.

ISPs blocked more piracy sites

The government has been forcing ISPs to block torrent sites for a while, and the list of banned sites has grown longer and longer.

In July, this list was expanded to include mirrors of already-banned torrent sites, as well as proxy sites which allow users to circumvent blocks.

Unfortunately, trying to prevent piracy by blocking means to access torrents is like playing a game of Whack-a-Mole while simultaneously trying to behead a hydra and put a genie back into a bottle. Every time a site is blocked, more mirrors inevitably spring up.

This really underlines the futility of all of these methods of tackling piracy. The police and creative industries are trying to directly stop pirates, but it doesn’t really appear to be working, if this year’s record-breaking number of illegal downloads for Game of Thrones is anything to go by.

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