House Judiciary Subcommittee Hearing Points to Voluntary Initiatives as Important Piece of the Anti-Piracy Puzzle

March 17, 2014

On Thursday, March 13th, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet held a hearing as part of its ongoing examination of U.S. copyright law.  The hearing focused on the more than 15-year-old Digital Millennium Copyright Act, specifically section 512 which covers the safe harbor provisions intended to “preserve[] strong incentives for service providers and copyright owners to cooperate to detect and deal with copyright infringements that take place in the digital networked environment.”

Testifying before the committee was a diverse panel of witnesses including two law professors, an executive at Google, a Grammy award winning composer, and two other legal counsels.  While everyone brought their own unique points of view and opinions to the hearing, the majority of members and panel witnesses agreed that content creators have every right to protect their work, and that voluntary initiatives and best practices created by both content creators and distributors is an essential part of moving us down the path of stopping the problems of piracy and intellectual property theft.

In his opening remarks, full Committee Chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, stated that “there is little disagreement over the need to expeditiously remove clearly infringing content” online, while Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) said that the victims of content theft are forced to “fight tooth and nail to protect their product.” During her opening remarks, Annemarie Bridy, a law professor at the University of Idaho College of Law, said that “no one doubts that the scale of copyright infringement online is massive or that willful infringers online are adept evaders of enforcement.”

Piracy and IP theft is endangering the livelihoods of creators, not just here in America but around the world. While testifying, Grammy award winning composer, Maria Schneider, told the members of the committee that her “livelihood is being threatened by illegal distribution of [her] work that [she] cannot rein in” and that she has to “spend countless hours trying to take it down”, usually unsuccessfully.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) as someone who “does not want the federal government to get involved” seemed amazed that “we can put a man on the moon. We can transplant a heart” but that we had not been able to find technical solutions to the problems of online piracy. So what is the answer? How do we protect the content that artists and creators work so hard to make?  Part of the answer is voluntary initiatives that all stakeholders come together to create. Paul Doda, Global Litigation Counsel for Elsevier Inc., suggested that Congress “direct that there be a broadly inclusive, multi-stakeholder, standards-setting process to recommend voluntary technical measures that can reduce online infringements.” And Katherine Oyama, the Senior Copyright Policy Counsel for Google, agreed that the “combination of ‘rules of the road’ and evolving voluntary initiatives has proven itself to be an engine of economic growth for more than 15 years.”

The Motion Picture Association of America continues to look for voluntary and multi-stakeholder partners and solutions to the problems of piracy and IP theft.  We remain welcome to the Judiciary Committee’s consideration and support in our ongoing efforts.