Addressing piracy in the virtual world


  • Technology
  • Tuesday, 22 Feb 2011

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THE Internet is an indispensable tool in the modern world but as the old adage goes, we need to take the good with the bad.

While it is regarded as the world’s largest library, the Internet is not only a place where copyright violaters can download music and movies (much to the chagrin of groups like the Motion Picture Association (MPA) but also where people can obtain other counterfeit products such as luxury goods and ­medication.

This is also a reason why fashion names like Lacoste and the MPA have dedicated teams to comb cyberspace for such ­perpetrators.

Cyberlockers and stashers

The MPA is not new to this battle. Besides the normal peer-to-peer sharing of movies, it found that the problem also presents itself in the form of cyberstashers or cyberlockers.

A cyberlocker is a dedicated space on the Internet where users can stash their digital data.

But even if they have been fighting this battle for a while, the MPA still encounters obstacles.

According to Ted Shapiro, Motion Picture Association EMEA senior vice-president, general counsel and deputy managing ­director, civil cases involving perpetrators operating online can be tricky especially with the case of cyberlocker owners.

“Apart from the complex privacy issue, there is also the case of unclear borders on what needs to be monitored and what the scope of injuctions can be,” he said in a panel session themed addressing ­counterfeiting and piracy in the virtual world at the sixth global congress on combating counterfeiting and piracy in Paris, France.

Successfully nabbing copyright violators is also another task because they are a nimble bunch, Shapiro said.

They play a divide-and-conquer game by registering their domain in one country and opening a bank account in another.

They are also well informed on which countries are better at enforcing copyright laws.

“They understand the shortcomings of civil litigations very well and are very adept in bouncing from one place of operations to another,” he said.

In order to deal with this new age ­problem, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) agency have updated their strategies to book online ­counterfeiters.

It developed Operation In Our Sites (OIOS), which targets websites with domain names registered in the United States that offer not only pirated movies but also other counterfeit items from handbags to toys.

Its assistant deputy director, Erik Barnett said told congress delegates about the ­agency’s success in tackling sites offering pirated movies.

Ice had received a warrant from a US ­federal judge to seize a perpetrator’s ­hardware and also asked for a job to redirect the website to Ice’s. Of course, when visitors came to the disguised website, there was ­nothing to download.

“The MPA had referred nine sites to us but once they realised someone was watching, only two sites resumed operations,” he said.

Ice regards OIOS as a success but it did receive its fair share of criticism, Barnett said.

Most of it is about how Ice is actually ­censoring the Internet and many Americans believe that Ice’s act is in violation of the first ammendment of the US constitution, which prohibits the making of any law that impedes on the freedom to exercise freedom of ­religion, freedom of speech and the press, among others.

However such criticisms are treated like water off a duck’s back.

“We’re a law enforcement agency, we don’t have feelings,” Barnett said drawing guffaws from the delegates.

Barnett said Ice continues to work with copyright owners and the US government to bring down the piracy rate but private companies seeking its help will need to do a bit of homework themselves to assist with the investigations.

“We’ll need something more than a domain name and something less of a thick file and also an understanding of how such sites are impacting your business,” he said.

Private efforts

Besides government agencies like Ice, ­intermediaries like search engine company Google and e-commerce site PriceMinister.com in France are also doing their part to sniff out counterfeiters.

Google does so through its Adwords Counterfeit Policy which is aimed at ­advertisements promoting counterfeit ­products.

According to Google Inc senior trademark counsel Annabelle Daniel Varda, customers or even copyright owners can file a complaint through a prepared online form if they catch a site selling counterfeit items.

“We have zero tolerance for counterfeit products because it is not ideal for our customers, it harms users and ruins Google’s reputation to the extent that people might say that we profit from counterfeiters,” she said.

She added that Google will continue its efforts to develop more tools to be able to proactively detect counterfeit products promoted via its search engine.

Meanwhile PriceMinister.com takes ­proactive steps by analysing vendors who sell items on the site.

Its director of legal and government affairs, Benoit Tabaka said this is especially so when a vendor suddenly has a large amount items like 10 mobile phones and two perfumes.

“If they can’t prove that the items are ­genuine, their accounts will be suspended,” Tabaka said.

However, to make its efforts more ­effective, Tabaka said PriceMinister is ­looking to strike a partnership with the copyright owners to help them better protect their intellectual property.

“Site owners have access to information such as Internet protocol addresses, how many accounts a person has and possibly even who the person is. With our help, I think we can help copyright owners keep an eye on counterfeiters but they have yet to take us up on this offer,” he said. — JO TIMBUONG

Related Stories: The brutal side of software piracy

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