Last week nine websites that allowed people to download or stream TV programmes and films for free were closed down (see here), their domains seized by the US federal government. These sites included tvshack.net, Movies-Links.tv, FilesPump.com, Now-Movies.coms along with five others.
These sites were targeted as part of a new initiative, aimed at combating Internet counterfeiting and piracy, and were selected because they allowed visitors access to films such as Toy Story 3 and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which have only recently been released in the cinema.
Many of these sites allowed viewers to watch films taped by camcorder in the back of cinemas, in poor quality and often with audio tracks out of sync with the video. It is argued that websites like these cause considerable damage to the film industry, as people who might otherwise pay to see films in the cinema, are able to watch them for free online.
John Morton, the assistant secretary from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) explained the new initiative, saying, “We are dedicated to protecting the jobs, the income and the tax revenue that disappear when organized criminals traffic in stolen movies for their own profit”. Kevin Suh, Vice President of Content Protection for the Motion Picture Association of America, called this action the “largest takedown of illegal movie and television websites in a single action by the federal government” (See here) The government has decided to severely crackdown on all websites that show pirated American movies, and is prosecuting the owners of these sites. They say that if any of these sites resurface, they will again take action. The US government is primarily targeting websites distributing cinematic content, but may also begin to target sites enabling illegal game downloads.
A major difficulty associated with these efforts is that the nature of the Internet makes it very difficult to control what the public access. Whilst the U.S. Government may have taken control of these domains, the websites can just pop up at a different location using a different domain name. In fact, TVshack.net have already moved their website to another domain, TVshack.cc. So, while this move is effective to some extent, it is unlikely to be successful in eliminating online copyright infringement by itself.
In trying to control access to content on the Internet, the US Government seems to be fighting a losing battle. As with many similar efforts against the distribution of drugs, and unlawful music downloads, trying to stop illegal movie downloading is proving to be a near impossible task.
Copyright infringement is clearly a problem that everybody is trying to find the best way of tackling. In the UK Ofcom is currently consulting on how to give effect to measures introduced in the Digital Economy Act 2010 aimed at reducing online copyright infringement. It’s new draft code proposes that copyright holders could require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to write to subscribers telling them their accounts have been associated with copyright infringement. ISPs will need to keep lists, and provide lists of repeat infringers in anonymised form to right holders on request. Personal details can then be obtained from the ISPs using a Norwich Pharmacal order. The consultation is open till 30 July.