Cloudflare Doesn’t Want to Become the ‘Piracy Police’

Cloudflare is warning that far-reaching cooperation between copyright holders and Internet services may put innovation in danger. The company doesn't want to become the "piracy police" and is refusing to monitor infringing content proactively. Instead, Cloudflare urges rightsholders to see the Internet as an opportunity rather than a threat.

As one of the leading CDN and DDoS protection services, Cloudflare is used by millions of websites across the globe.

This includes thousands of “pirate” sites, including the likes of The Pirate Bay and ExtraTorrent, which rely on the U.S.-based company to keep server loads down.

Copyright holders are not happy that CloudFlare services these sites. Last year, the RIAA and MPAA called the company out for aiding copyright infringers and helping pirate sites to obfuscate their actual location.

The rightsholders want Internet services such as Cloudflare to help them address online piracy more effectively. They are pushing for voluntary agreements to go above and beyond what the law prescribes them to do.

In the UK, for example, search engines have agreed to do more to hinder piracy, and advertisers, payment processors, and ISPs have also taken more active roles in combatting infringement.

In a whitepaper, Cloudflare sees this trend as a worrying development. The company points out that the safe harbor provisions put in place by the DMCA and Europe’s eCommerce Directive have been effective in fostering innovation for many years. Voluntary “anti-piracy” agreements may change this.

“Slowly however, a wider net of intermediaries — from hosting providers to search engines, eCommerce platforms and other internet players — have been encouraged to help address new societal challenges, to help ‘clean up the web’, and effectively become internet police. Innovation continues but at the same time is threatened,” Cloudflare writes.

In addition, rightsholders are trying to update current legislation to increase liability for Internet services. In Europe, for example, a new copyright law proposal will make piracy filtering systems mandatory for some Internet services.

In its whitepaper, Cloudflare argues the such “back-door attempts to update legislation” should be closely monitored.

Instead of putting the blame on outsiders, copyright holders should change their views and embrace the Internet, the company argues. There are plenty of opportunities on the Internet, and the losses rightholders claim are often overblown rhetoric.

“Internet innovation has kept pace but many content creators and rights-holders have not adapted, and many content creators claim a loss in earning power as a result of online piracy.”

According to Cloudflare, content creators are often too quick to put the blame onto others, out of frustration.

“Many rights-holders are frustrated by their own inability to monetize the exchange of protected content and so the internet is seen not as a digital opportunity but rather a digital threat.”

Cloudflare argues that increased monitoring and censorship are not proper solutions. Third-party Internet services shouldn’t be pushed into the role of Internet police out of a fear of piracy.

Instead, the company cautions against far-reaching voluntary agreements that may come at the expense of the public.

“Voluntary measures have their limits and care must be taken not to have intermediaries be pushed into the area of excessive monitoring or indeed censorship. Intermediaries should not be forced to act as judge and jury, and indeed putting commercial entities in such a position is dangerous.”

Cloudfare stresses that it does not monitor, evaluate, judge or store content on sites operated by its clients, nor has it plans to do so. The company merely acts as a neutral ‘reverse proxy’ and operates within the boundaries of the law

Of course, Cloudflare isn’t completely deaf to the concerns of copyright holders. Among other things, it has a trusted notifier program that allows rightsholders to obtain the true location of pirate sites that use the service. However, they explicitly say ‘no’ to proactive monitoring.

“Policy makers should not look for quick, short-term solutions to other complex problems of the moment involving the internet. A firehose approach which soaks anyone and everyone standing around an issue, is simply not the way forward,” the company writes.

The full whitepaper titled “Intermediary Liability: Safeguarding Digital Innovation and the Role of Internet Intermediaries” is avaialble here (pdf).

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