Insights into Editorial: Innovation is the best counter to digital piracy
With the recent shutting down KickAss Torrents – world’s largest torrenting site- by the US government, the issue of online piracy has once again come to the fore. The site was closed by the US government under the aegis of the Digital Millennium Rights Act. This is not first such crackdown. Similar closures took place in the past. The authorities will most likely win this battle. But these are not the most effective tactics in the longer war.
Aspects associated with this issue:
Economic logic: Disseminating and consuming material under copyright without due payment to content creators is certainly an ethical wrong. However, in contrast to the popular claims, economic harm caused by online piracy is very little. Assuming that every download of illegal content is a lost sale as industry bodies do is logically flawed. Much of the content is consumed only because it is free; there would be no corresponding legal transaction if the illegal avenue were closed. And given that digital content essentially has no production cost per copy—or that it is so minuscule beyond a point so as to be irrelevant—nor does the aggregate economy take a hit. The resources that would have been spent on acquiring digital content legally are simply utilized in other economic activity. There can be an overall loss in allocative efficiency coupled with a certain amount of financial loss, but this is qualitatively different from the damage claimed.
Cost and collateral damage of the law enforcement approach: Often, in the name of curbing online piracy, government authorities go beyond their legal limits, hurting innocent individuals and enterprises. Legislation such as the Stop Online Piracy Act, introduced and then abandoned in the US Congress due to controversy over its provisions, is an example of the danger of overreach. Many websites that facilitate peer-to-peer content distribution are not illegal in themselves; innocent individuals and enterprises are also hurt when such sites are shut down, denying access to services and uploaded data.
Freedom of speech: There are issues related to freedom of speech—such legislation can be used for online censorship—an excessive burden on content-hosting websites and a stifling of the creative chaos that fosters digital innovation.
Innovation: Over the 15-odd years, digital piracy has, in effect, been a process of consumers nudging content producers and marketers to keep pace with technological evolution. It has led to innovation and content delivery via digital pipelines in a manner consumers want, a hallmark of an effective market, not one dictated by producers. That innovation has led consumers to choose legal avenues over illegal, undercutting piracy.
In a first-ever judgment on online piracy, the Delhi High Court recently banned as many as 73 “rogue” websites that were illegally streaming “pirated” videos of cricket matches. The reason being- mere blocking of uniform resource locators (URLs)—where the infringing content is located—is not sufficient to stop piracy as it could be easily removed or replaced, like an email password.
- Observing that it was the “duty of the government” and its agencies to “assist in the enforcement of court orders,” the High Court asked the ministry of information technology to issue orders to internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to these websites for showing “substantial” pirated content.
- Industry and legal experts have welcomed the judgment, saying the positive decision will prove beneficial to the entertainment industry, especially the film industry.
India has the largest creation of copyright work. It is in the country’s interest to protect artists, authors, musicians and film producers from piracy. The decision to block entire websites to tackle online piracy is the first step in the right direction. It will ensure that all government agencies and the industry work towards stopping infringement on sites that are involved in widespread piracy.
- The landmark judgment will have a positive impact as it creates a fair balance between the rights owners and public interest, allowing for the rights owners to more efficiently protect their rights against outright rogue or pirate websites that blatantly infringe copyright and contain a huge extent of infringing content.
- However, the judgment has left government officials fuming. They feel they will be subjected to unnecessary harassment for possible contempt if the websites played a cat and mouse game. This will cause unnecessary harassment to the officials as they will be hauled up for potential contempt in case of any violation.
As of now, there is a lot of ambiguity even with regard to the freedom of speech. This judgment will prompt many others to approach courts for blocking websites. There is a need to have greater clarity on the issue. The law needs to be codified, especially liability of the government and its officials. Sensible legislation centred around digital rights management coupled with constant evolution in content delivery mechanisms could do a far better job.