Hollywood Urges FTC to Help Combat Online Piracy

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The MPAA hopes that the Federal Trade Commission will offer a helping hand to curb the ongoing threat of online piracy. The commission could bring unfair and deceptive trade practices actions against services that market pirate streaming devices, the Hollywood group suggests. In addition, it could help convince European policymakers that privacy regulations shouldn't be used to shield domain name WHOIS data.

Last week the FTC hosted several discussions on its role when it comes to innovation and intellectual property policy.

The commission asked a broad group of stakeholders how the FTC can use its enforcement and policy authority to advance innovation.

This is a question Hollywood, and its lobby group MPAA in particular, are not leaving unanswered. In a detailed response, Neil Fried of the MPAA laid out several possible actions the Government body can take to help the industry.

Ideally, the FTC should move beyond its consumer advisor role and take concrete action to target several piracy threats, either directly, or by encouraging other bodies to step in.

“Given the harms of piracy to competition and consumer welfare, we ask the FTC to take affirmative steps to combat piracy,” Fried writes.

“Taking more affirmative steps would help prevent unlawful services from stifling investment in, and competition by, legitimate online content services; would help combat cybersecurity threats; and would help protect consumers from identity theft and fraud stemming from malware.”

One of the focus areas highlighted by the MPAA’s SVP for Federal Advocacy and Regulatory Affairs are streaming boxes. Specifically, he suggests that the FTC could go after companies that market pirate streaming boxes as legal alternatives.

This practice is deceptive and warrants the attention of the Government, he argues. In addition, the FTC could educate both the general public and lawmakers about the risks of piracy, including malware-related threats.

“For example, the FTC could consider an unfair and deceptive trade practices action against entities marketing streaming piracy devices and applications as ‘100 percent legal’ and a way to ‘never pay for content again,’ or for harm to consumers stemming from malware.

“In addition, an expanded effort to educate consumers and policymakers about the harms of piracy, the threat to the competitive market for American digital products and services, and the risks to cybersecurity could also pay dividends,” Fried adds.

Another option for the FTC is to reach out other U.S. agencies, to see if it’s possible to bring criminal actions against blatant copyright infringers, and to encourage U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to block the import of pirate streaming devices.

It’s clear that the MPAA isn’t short on suggestions for the FTC to get involved.

As a final point of action, the MPAA mentions the recent controversy surrounding Europe’s new privacy regulation, the GDPR. As a result, many domain registrars and registries are shielding information about registrants from the public, which complicates enforcement efforts.

Fried urges the FTC to convince European lawmakers that this goes a step too far. The GDPR should not affect the availability of WHOIS data, and they hope to receive the commission’s support in calls to preserve the old “transparency” model.

Of course, the MPAA is not the only party to submit comments to the FTC. Other organizations are less enthusiastic about increased enforcement, and could even argue that some measures will impact freedom of speech.

Anticipating this, the MPAA notes that these kinds of fears are overblown, adding that enforcement in these areas will benefit free expression.

“In fact, curbing illegal activity promotes free expression by creating a safer, virtual environment where individuals feel comfortable to communicate and engage in commerce, as well as to create and lawfully access content,” Fried notes.

A written copy of the comments from MPAA’s SVP for Federal Advocacy and Regulatory Affairs is available here (pdf).

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