Zynga Opposed SOPA, Now Wants Voluntary Anti-Piracy Deals

Previously a SOPA opponent, online gaming giant Zynga is now putting its weight behind voluntary anti-piracy deals. Noting that "nothing could make it through Congress" in 2014, Zynga's Corporate Counsel observes that while having their finances strangled, sites that get big by tolerating infringement ultimately struggle to defend their positions.

zyngaThe polarizing nature and scale of the SOPA debate two years ago left the legislation in tatters and Hollywood in particular scrambling to repair relationships with technology companies that should’ve been their partners. With all chances of new legislation off the table, a new strategy began to form.

Hollywood and the record labels set out to achieve their aims not be force, but by cooperation. Deals, such as the six-strikes scheme and efforts at strangling the advertising finances of ‘pirate’ sites, have proven relatively easy to reach and are even gaining approval from former SOPA rivals.

Online gaming giant Zynga, the outfit behind games including Farmville, ZyngaPoker and Mafia Wars, came out in 2012 as a SOPA opponent due to concerns that it could “freeze innovation” and damage the Internet. But now the company is joining its former pro-SOPA adversaries in championing voluntary anti-piracy initiatives.

Working together is easier than dealing with Congress

In an interview preceding his appearance at the Anti-Piracy & Content Protection Summit this June, Ted Hasse, Corporate Counsel IP at Zynga, has underlined the importance of a cooperative approach to dealing with piracy.

“[Cooperation] seems to be the best avenue for the greatest results on the largest
scale in the near term. In the last year, voluntary agreements for best practices have been hot with major activity among all industry-leading ISPs, payment processors, and ad networks,” Hasse explains.

“Legislation is slow. Voluntary agreements happen much faster.”

As an example of how stakeholders can work together, Hasse cites work by the Department of Commerce’s Internet Policy Task Force on how best to handle the millions of DMCA notices being issued everyday. With legislation off the table, working both cooperatively and voluntarily is the sole solution.

“The only path for DMCA reform in 2014 is through a process like this since nothing could make it through Congress,” he notes.

Hitting torrent and file-hosting sites, no laws required

Hasse says that while torrent and file-hosting sites still represent today’s biggest anti-piracy challenge, voluntary agreements are beginning to make their mark.

“Legitimate ad networks and payment processors are cutting off the money streams for pirate sites through voluntary commitment to the IAB’s best practices for combating piracy and the IACC Payment Processor Initiative, and it didn’t take a new laws, law enforcement or litigation,” the counsel says.

However, while “legitimate” advertisers can indeed be leaned on, less scrupulous companies are willing to take up the slack. These can generate decent revenues too, as Zynga knows only too well – in 2009 the company admitted making millions from scammy advertising, something pirate sites are being accused of today.

Turning a blind eye to infringement has its consequences

Citing the 2013 cases against both isoHunt and Hotfile, Hasse says that while turning a blind eye to infringement might lead to sites enjoying good growth, there comes a time when they have to account for their behavior.

“When a platform is willing to accommodate the infringing activity they get big and it eventually becomes too hard to avoid having to defend their practices in the
light of day,” Hasse says.

“And when that happens these platforms are not coming out on top, their practices have to change or their entire services are being disrupted, and I’m not convinced it’s that easy for would-be infringers to just move on to the next place to find pirated content.”

Getting harder to find infringing content

It’s a controversial assertion, but Hasse believes that it’s actually getting harder for people to find pirated content online.

“While years ago I think many or most people could easily find pirated content on the Internet, today I suspect many users don’t know where to find exactly what they want conveniently, so when a major site shutters or changes its practices to disallow infringing activity, many users are actually downloading less pirated content or stop altogether rather than finding a new channel,” he concludes.

Old rivals finding common ground

Two years ago rivals on both side of the SOPA debate could not have been further apart, yet now there appears to be growing consensus between stakeholders on how to achieve the same kinds of goals without causing anywhere near as much offense. As a result, also absent are many of the outrageous headlines that accompanied the often hyper-aggressive actions of Hollywood and the record labels.

Doing anti-piracy work this way, quietly, means there is far less opposition and much less controversy. And by having voluntary agreements in place that don’t involve breaking the Internet, the public (and potential dissent) is effectively taken out of the equation.

Photo: Flazingo Photos

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