This post by FMC Legal Intern Satie Munn
Earlier today, major companies Conde Nast, AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and others committed to a set of best practices aimed at reducing so-called “ad-supported piracy” online. The White House Office of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC) and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) released best practices guidelines that aim to reduce the flow of advertising revenue to operators of sites that are principally dedicated to selling counterfeit goods or engaging in copyright infringement.
The guidelines suggest maintaining policies to discourage or prevent ads being served on infringing sites, along with ongoing dialogue with content creators, rightsholders, consumer organizations and free speech advocates. The recommendations follow the White House’s 2013 Joint Strategic Plan on Intellectual Property Enforcement, which emphasized the importance of protecting intellectual property.
In conjunction with the guidelines, the White House also released a statement that gives a sense of the thinking behind these voluntary best practices:
It is critical that such efforts be undertaken in a manner that is consistent with all applicable laws and with the Administration’s broader Internet policy principles emphasizing privacy, free speech, fair process, and competition… We will continue to pursue a comprehensive approach to the problems associated with infringement, including increased law enforcement, educational awareness, and increased cooperation with our trading partners in order to promote innovation, support jobs, increase exports, and maintain our global competitiveness.
So why now? Well, there’s no doubt that criticisms about ads appearing on infringing sites have been gaining volume. The White House has tackled this kind of thing before: In 2011, IPEC revealed the Payment Processor Best Practices for Online Copyright Infringement, which established a process for companies like Visa, Mastercard and PayPal to work with rightsholders to reduce commercial infringement by not facilitating transactions. (We previously analyzed what these agreements for the benefit of musicians.)
It is important to note that AOL, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo! already prohibit infringing websites from joining their ad networks. Yahoo!’s policy explicitly allows them to “terminate the accounts of users” who violate copyright. Google and AOL take a similar approach. However, the White House encourages these companies to do more. Part of this is demonstrating marketplace leadership. Getting industry giants like Google and Microsoft to agree to voluntary measures is essential if the White House expects other players to follow suit.
Cooperation is obviously key. As Randall Rothenberg, President and CEO of IAB, said in response to today’s White House statement, “To have the White House stamp of approval is critical as part of the evolution of the IAB Quality Assurance Guidelines and the industry as a whole… Bringing these disparate parties together at the same table, we have been able to establish guidelines that strictly protect copyrights, while allowing the digital economy to flourish.”
FMC also released a statement, attributed to Interim Executive Director Casey Rae, with our take on the matter:
Future of Music Coalition is committed to the growth of a legitimate digital music marketplace where artists are fairly compensated for their work. Today’s announcement by some of the major players in online advertising is hopefully a step towards this goal.
A functional and sustainable digital ecosystem is only achievable if everyone involved — from technology companies to intermediaries to fans — respect artists and the incredible value they bring. It’s not just about protecting the interest of big corporations; it’s ensuring that musicians and other creators are able to use their intellectual property in the way that makes the most sense for them.
We also hope that today’s announcement serves to increase trust and shared commitments between stakeholders. We look forward to working with IPEC and others to ensure that musicians voices are heard in ongoing conversations about artist rights and technology.
What do you think about these new “best practices” and efforts to protect intellectual property online?