Saturday, January 20, 2007

IFPI Wants Google's "China Policy" Implemented Globally to Cover Copyright

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), a global music trade group akin to the RIAA, released its Digital Music Report for 2007 this past Wednesday. It makes the usual points: digital music is a growing business, the music industry is making headway in the War on Piracy, record companies are working to give consumers what they want (ha!), and next year will be better for consumers, artists, and (most importantly) the labels' bottom lines.

However, the report is also an interesting confession of where the IFPI's strategery in the War on Piracy will take them. The summary of the report, fittingly titled "A Brave New World," says:
...actions against individual uploaders are onerous and expensive and we shouldn’t have to be taking them. That job should not be ours – it should be done by the gatekeepers of the web, the Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who unquestionably have the technical means to deal with copyright infringement, if only they would take responsibility for doing so.

At one time you were considered a new media philistine if you wanted to regulate the internet. But then Google promised the Chinese government that censorship was possible. Then Google blacklisted BMW in the internet world for anti-social behavior. It seems policing is acceptable for all sorts of things but not intellectual property!

With cooperation from ISPs, we could make huge strides in tackling content piracy globally. Disconnection of service for serious infringers should become the speeding fine or the parking ticket of ISP networks. We need government help to make it clear that ISPs must face up to their responsibilities and cut off copyright infringing users. To be fair, at the end of 2006 the UK government signalled that it may be prepared to play a facilitating role in this and set a deadline of December 2007 for tangible progress.
First, I am not the only one to notice that selling Google's China policy to other more open countries is a tough proposition. To be fair, the IFPI is a London based entity and England does not have the same kind of extensive free speech rights as exist here in the US, so perhaps the jump from England's Internet policy to China's policy isn't as jarring as it sounds here. But however you want to think about it, saying that what Google does in China is a good thing that should be more widely adopted just sounds wrong.

But there are two other nuggets in there worth mentioning: that the DMCA is too "onerous" for the IFPI (and related organizations) and that cutting off Internet access to infringers is a sensible policy.

I would disagree that the DMCA is too "onerous" because, for all it's faults, it at least tries to strike a balance between users and copyright owners. This balance is certainly skewed in the copyright owner's favor, but it does allow users a limited degree of mobility within the law (eg. counter-notifications and defined safe harbors that allow for websites to host certain online activities). If the IFPI had it's way and the DMCA were replaced, what would they want? Based on their 2005 suggested Code of Conduct for ISPs, they would want ISPs to:
...enforce terms of service that prohibit a subscriber from operating a server, or from consuming excessive amounts of bandwidth where such consumption is a good indicator of infringing activities.
Using too much bandwidth (tell me the difference to an ISP between uploading/watching a video on YouTube and downloading some hot new song and you get a prize) would mean no more Internet access for you. If I do A a lot, and all people who commit crime B also do A a lot, then I must also be committing crime B, is just flawed logic. Ars suggests that perhaps the IFPI would like more of a streamlined process, like the YouTube take-down process that requires a letter to YouTube and (poof!) the video is down. Problem is that an automatic revocation of Internet service, without any sense of due process, is exceedingly harsh. The YouTube model applied to ISPs in this case would be like ordering house arrest for shoplifting. After all, if you can't be trusted not to pocket a pack of gum from the bodega, you can't be trusted to go outside. Right?

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