Need For Change in Online Copyright Infringement Policy - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Need For Change in Online Copyright Infringement Policy

Need For Change in Online Copyright Infringement Policy

In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security raided the home of copyright infringer Ms. Hana Beshara, of NinjaVideo, a site people would watch TV shows and movies through illegal streaming, according to the New York Times.  Beshara was no stereotypical computer programmer who found an incredibly creative way to scheme the system; she was just an NYU political science major with an idea.  NinjaVideo hired administrators who used special software to tape shows directly from television and upload them directly to a cyberlocker or hosting site. From there, shows and movies would be posted on NinjaVideo.  This process was not unique to NinjaVideo, but many sites used this method as watching illegal downloads as simple as flipping on the television, which is why so many people do it.

Who gets harmed as a result of illegally streaming that Game of Thrones episode you couldn’t watch without that HBO GO subscription?   It was the Motion Picture Association of America (M.P.A.A.) who alerted the federal government about Ms. Beshara’s activities and the activities of other copyright infringers.

According to the article, Even though, Ms. Beshara served 16 months in prison for criminal copyright infringement, she remains unrepentant for her actions.  This begs the question, what is the best deterrent for copyright infringers? There seems to be a pervasive nonchalant-ness about intellectual property theft on the Internet in general.  As reported by Cisco Systems Visual Networking Index over 25% of Internet use is illegal.

The current laws on Internet copyright infringement of this sort are insufficient and outdated.  They are the same laws that were developed to prevent a person from bringing a camera into a movie theater and selling pirated tapes in the street for $5.00.  The insufficiency gets played out in the public arena between the M.P.A.A. and unrepentant lawbreakers like Ms. Beshara because the existing law generally ignores how ordinary people view entertainment in the contemporary environment.

As a response to the raids on copyright infringers like Ms. Beshara, Congress tried to enact the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).  However, this legislation was extremely broadly worded. For example, it required websites to be responsible for monitoring their services for violators, an extremely expensive and impossible challenge. This would shift the blame from the people themselves to websites like Wikipedia to suffer the consequences.  In making better legislation congress should ask: i) should there be a difference in the law between pirating a movie still in theaters vs. a movie one out of theaters?  ii) What about a difference between pirating movies and pirating television shows?  iii) What about pirating shows on regular cable vs. premium channel shows like HBO?

Today the MPAA is not pursuing new legislation, and is focusing on education. They claim their goal is to show the alternatives out there to the public. Does this mean they have given up? It might, as there are currently many more illegal sites than legal sites. In fact, when ABC added additional requirements on legal websites like Hulu and Netflix, the amount of people pirating ABC shows increased by 300%.  This activity indicates that using pirated material may be situation of convenience.  People are willing to use the more convenient option because studies have found that the farther removed you are from the source, the more likely you are to disregard the copyright and intellectual property.

Since the federal raid on NinjaVideo, newer sites have adapted. They have established themselves overseas, and avoiding incriminating public statements on forums. If future legislation is going to be as fiercely debated as SOPA, the focus of the law should shift. According to Peter Eckersly at Electronic Frontier Foundation, the law should shift its focus to make sure copyright holders are paid for their work rather than stymieing people from gaining access to the work.  This could be the only solution in appeasing the M.P.A.A. and accepting the fact that unauthorized streaming of videos may never dissipate.

Josh Schwartzman

Josh Schwartzman is a second year student at Fordham Law School and a staff member of the Fordham Intellectual Property, Media, and Entertainment Law Journal. Josh is interested in intellectual property litigation, particularly where it intersects with white-collar criminal investigations. In his spare time, Josh is willing to take on the misery for sports fans everywhere as he is an infallible New York Jets and New York Mets supporter.