Broadway bootlegs might soon get the boot.
Last week, the U.S. Copyright Office released a report urging federal legislators to change the law in an effort to slow the spread of pirated content like unlicensed recordings of Broadway shows on the Internet. Enforcing Section 512 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act nowadays has “resulted in an increasing burden on rights-holders to adequately monitor and enforce their rights online, while providing enhanced protections for online service providers in circumstances beyond those originally anticipated by Congress,” stated its spokesperson.
Designed to foster the growth of online commerce in the early days of the Internet, the legislation protects online platforms from being held liable for copyright infringement when their users post copyrighted material without permission, as long as the online platforms meet certain requirements. In addition to having special policies in place, the companies must not receive a financial benefit directly from any pirated content, know about its presence or any red flags that it exists, or allow it to remain on their websites after its presence has been reported.
“As to the development of online services, it is reasonable to state that Section 512 has achieved this purpose,” stated Raza Panjwani, an attorney who worked for the Public Knowledge public interest group. “Online platforms ranging from YouTube, to Facebook, to Tumblr, to Twitter, to Wikipedia, to innumerable subject matter specific discussion forums, have arisen thanks to the legal certainties provided by Section 512,” he said.
However, a lot has changed since the law was introduced in 1998.
When Section 512 was written, the Internet had only recently expanded beyond the closed platform or “walled garden” websites like America Online and Prodigy. “There was no Facebook or YouTube or Twitter; the first MP3 player had just been launched, and Napster, which popularized peer-to-peer file-sharing, would not exist until the following year,” recalled the spokesperson for the Copyright Office.
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However, with the growth of the Internet, the distribution of Broadway bootlegs has exploded.
Instead of being distributed on dusty VHS tapes like in the 1990’s, bootleg recordings of Broadway shows are now streamed on popular video-sharing platforms like YouTube, stored on foreign file hosting services like Mega, and traded in online communities like LiveJournal. Hundreds of thousands of unlicensed files are floating around the Internet, and one poll found that over 97.9 percent of theatre enthusiasts under the age of 20 have seen a Broadway bootleg.
Many rights-holders believe that the procedures that Section 512 put in place are not effective in combating copyright infringement on the Internet.
“Copyright owners send millions of notifications, yet these collectively have had little impact toward reducing the volume of infringing material available through the numerous sites employing the safe harbors to shield their responsibility for the persistent presence of such material,” argued Allan Robert Adler, the general counsel for the Association of American Publishers trade group. When pirated content is finally removed from a website, it often pops up again somewhere else, requiring rights-holders to spend a ton of time and money monitoring websites and mailing take-down notices. Jeffrey Seller, the lead producer of Hamilton, had to hire someone full-time to search for bootleg recordings of the show, and an executive at the record label Warner Music Group estimated that “it would take at least 20-30 people, at a fully-loaded cost in excess of $2 million per year, and probably the use of an outside content monitoring contractor at additional expense, to meaningfully affect (but not entirely block) just WMG’s top 25 album releases on YouTube.”
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According to Section 512, in order for an online platform to be shielded from liability, it must have “adopted and reasonably implemented … a policy that provides for the termination in appropriate circumstances of subscribers and account holders of the service provider’s system or network who are repeat infringers.” The platforms must have plans for blocking repeat infringers to make sure that they do not continue to post pirated content on their websites.
However, federal judges interpreting the law have not made up their minds over what makes someone a “repeat infringer.” Some judges think that it refers to someone accused of committing copyright infringement, and some judges think that it refers to someone found in court to have committed copyright infringement.
The Copyright Office believes that Congress originally intended the phrase to refer to only someone accused of committing copyright infringement, and it now insists that legislators should update the statute to make the language more clear. Websites should not wait for a court to find the person who shares multiple Broadway bootlegs liable before closing his or her account and putting a stopper on the source of pirated content.
In addition, there has been some confusion over how much Internet platforms must know about the existence of Broadway bootlegs on their websites before they are required to remove them. Other than when the companies receive a take-down notice or actually know that there is copyright infringement, the statute demands them to act whenever they see red flags or are “aware of facts or circumstances from which infringing activity is apparent.”
Some courts have taken the position that red flags exist when Internet platforms are aware of facts that would make a specific instance of copyright infringement “objectively obvious to a reasonable person.” The facts must relate specifically to the pirated content, and general knowledge that most videos on a website contain pirated content would not be considered a red flag.
Link to the rest at Forbes