Last month, copyright students at Michigan Law were able to engage in a Q&A after a presentation from Alfred Perry, the VP of Worldwide Content Protection at Paramount Pictures. The topic? SOPA, PIPA, and the legal issues that surround file-sharing websites, like the recently indicted Megaupload.
Many students were eager to engage in a discussion with a representative of the movie industry, especially given the current debate over the Stop Online Piracy Act, and the possibility of future copyright legislation that would address online infringement. As a copyright student myself, I was anxious to hear what a representative of a company that advocates and supports these recent legislative initiatives had to say.
During the presentation, I was most impressed by the emphasis that was put on the problem with cyberlockers- online file storage providers. While they have completely legitimate uses such as storing documents, and sharing files, some users post pirated content of movies or TV shows. It seems that major media companies are targeting these sites- Mr. Perry said that “We continue to make criminal referrals.” Paramount Pictures stated that their content is not being protected adequately by the current laws. However, these cyberlockers are bound by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and are obligated to take down infringing content when given notice that it has been posted.
During the presentation, five cyberlockers were identified as “rogue” sites- Fileserve, MediaFire, Wupload, Putlocker, and Depositfiles. In a later email, Mr. Perry explained that “My use of the term ‘rogue’ was meant to designate those cyberlockers which would fall within the definition of a foreign infringing site.” However, MediaFire is a cyberlocker that is located in Texas. They recently released a press release that addressed these claims. The owner, Tom Landridge said “MediaFire continues to cooperate fully with the MPAA, RIAA, and various other organizations who work to identify and prohibit the distribution of copyrighted content. We have a variety of advanced automated systems designed to detect violations of our Terms of Service and automatically warn and terminate users.”
It appears that the war between media companies and cyberlockers is only just beginning. Although it is apparent that studios do not like these companies, there doesn’t seem to be a ready solution. Cyberlockers provide a legitimate service, used by many for legitimate purposes. The recent firestorm has caused two sites- Wupload and FireServe to become backup sites, disabling all fire-sharing to avoid the risk of criminal prosecution. While media companies might rejoice, I believe this points to a bigger problem- the media industry business model. Mr. Perry in an e-mail to me, stated “Looking forward, why would anyone invest in an innovative new distribution service if they believed that there would be no legal protection for their fantastic new platform, forcing it to compete with rogue sites that pirate all of their product?”. However, this belies the point that these cyberlockers are innovative- it is the reason they receive 41 billion page views a year. While there is no easy solution, and stolen content is a problem, it might be in the best interest of both cyberlockers and the entertainment industry to work together moving forward- sparing cyberlockers the fear of criminal prosecution, and innovating the media distribution business model.