The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been battling online piracy for years, but the problem remains.
Roughly a decade ago torrent sites were the main threat. In recent years that switched, first to cyberlockers, and then to online streaming.
While the MPAA has pursued civil lawsuits against pirate sites and services throughout the world, it believes that more progress can be made through criminal prosecutions.
In a recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, MPAA’s Senior Counsel Neil Fried explains that these criminal cases have a much broader impact, using the Megaupload case as an example.
“Although the U.S. government does not take many such actions, those they do can have a greater deterrent effect than civil suits because criminal cases bring more attention, along with the possibility of jail time for convicted culprits,” Fried notes.
“Indeed, a 2012 U.S. action against Megaupload—then the largest piracy ‘cyberlocker,’ accounting for 4 percent of all internet traffic—increased lawful digital sales by 6.5 to 8.5 percent for three major studios in 12 countries,” he adds, citing an academic study from an MPAA funded research group.
Hollywood’s anti-piracy outfit hopes that the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) will continue to investigate piracy cases. In order to facilitate this, the MPAA says it has already reported several unnamed piracy streaming operations, hoping for a similar effect.
“The MPAA has pending a number of criminal referrals to DOJ regarding streaming piracy operations, with the goal of replicating a comparable uptick in legitimate consumption,” Fried notes.
These referrals have not been made public, but it’s clear that the MPAA would like to see some streaming-related criminal prosecutions. This could be streaming sites, but also illegal IPTV services, or companies that sell pirate streaming boxes.
The MPAA has fed law enforcement with information leading to piracy-related indictments on several previous occasions. The anti-piracy group triggered the criminal prosecution of members of the BitTorrent release group IMAGiNE, as well as the Megaupload and KickassTorrents cases.
The latter two cases are still on hold, pending the outcome of extradition requests in New Zealand and Poland respectively. Considering the slow progress in these cases, it could be that the DoJ is not too eager to take on another online piracy case just yet.
The MPAA’s criminal referrals are part of its three-pronged approach to combating online piracy. This further involves voluntary anti-piracy initiatives with third-party services, as well as civil lawsuits against copyright-infringing sites and services.
The voluntary initiatives include agreements with domain name registrars, advertisers, payment processors, which are encouraged to cut their ties with known pirate sites.
On the civil action side, the MPAA’s activity has recently been coordinated through the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment (ACE). This group has filed civil cases against streaming box vendors and IPTV services, and also conducts “knock and talks,” targeting pirate add-on developers.
In recent years there haven’t been any criminal cases against streaming piracy outfits. The MPAA, however, urges lawmakers to ensure that the feds expand their horizons and pursue cases against these streaming piracy operations.
“Our hope is that Congress will encourage DOJ to move forward with those cases,” Fried notes in the testimony.
The full testimony from the MPAA’s Neil Fried, was submitted for hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce (pdf) and the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation (pdf).