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Stakeholders Come Together in Washington to Discuss Voluntary Initiatives to Stop Online Infringement

March 21, 2014

Stakeholders from various industries, including content owners and online service providers, came together yesterday for the first in a series of discussions organized by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to explore voluntary ways of combating copyright infringement on the Internet. The USPTO set the stage to make some progress in the coming months. We of course cannot know what these meetings will ultimately produce, but we are pleased to see a wide representation of the Internet community participating in earnest and in a positive spirit. There appears to be a willingness to identify and address a number of discrete issues on which we can work collaboratively.

The Internet has been an enormous boon for creators, technologists, entrepreneurs, and the overall economy. So much of our daily lives now depends on it – whether at work, on the go, or at home. It’s good news for content creators and audiences because there has never been more ways to legally access films, television series, music, books, games, and so many other kinds of entertainment and creative content. However, the Internet has also given rise to massive amounts of copyright infringement that undermines the online digital experience of audiences everywhere and hurts those who work hard to create the content we all love.

Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) in 1998 to help ensure that the Internet would develop as a venue where both artistic creativity and technological innovation could thrive, and wrongdoing would be adequately addressed. Congress had the foresight to know that the Internet would evolve over time, and so designed the DMCA to encourage Internet stakeholders to address online infringement together rather than codify specific technological measures or create static requirements. The DMCA has been and continues to be an important tool in the ongoing fight against online copyright infringement. But the dramatic rise of services dedicated entirely to unauthorized distribution of content shows that stakeholders must increase their efforts under the Act – especially when it comes to the way in which they live up to the requirements of Section 512, which specifies the requirements that service providers must meet to gain “safe harbor” from copyright liability.

Section 512 was intended to provide a shield for responsible actors who undertake good-faith efforts to combat infringement. Increasingly, however, it is being used as a free pass, making it a shield from taking responsibility to help the content community curb online infringement by bad actors building businesses by misappropriating creators’ hard work. And the volume of online infringement demonstrates that the DMCA has yet to fulfill its promise of keeping online infringement in check. To illustrate: between March and August of 2013 alone, the six MPAA companies sent a total of 13.2 million takedown requests to remove infringing files from non-User Generated Content web sites (mostly so-called “cyberlockers”), and 12 million requests to remove links to infringing content from search results. And even when this content is successfully taken down, far too often copies of or links to the same works reappear almost immediately in a never-ending game of “whac-a-mole.” Takedown must mean stay-down. Discussion at the PTO forum recognized that the notice-and-takedown process must become both more efficient and more effective. Sending and responding to millions of notices is not productive unless it actually reduces online infringement.

To find truly effective ways of protecting digital content, and the millions of jobs around the country that depend on it, it’s clear that all interested stakeholders need to work together. We must create best practices that will allow the Internet to live up to its potential of fostering creativity and innovation, while also protecting the work of all kinds of creators. This is a belief that the MPAA has long championed and one that was echoed by Members of Congress and witnesses in a recent House Judiciary Committee hearing. Through efforts like the 2007 User Generated Content Principles and the Copyright Alert System that went into effect last year, we have already shown that these types of initiatives are not only possible, but present great opportunities for stakeholders to come together and find common ground.

Of course, no perfect solutions will present themselves right away. But if all stakeholders stay committed to this process and work in good faith, we believe that it can deliver real progress and build a foundation to make the Internet a place that truly works for everyone.