Piracy is the Internet’s Canary in the Coal Mine, MPAA Chief Says

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MPAA chief Charles Rivkin is sounding the alarm bell. The healthy and vibrant Internet many people want is in serious jeopardy. Whether it's in response to fake news, hate speech, or piracy, Rivkin calls on Internet platforms to take responsibility and fix the web's "broken windows."

The entertainment industries are growing increasingly frustrated with major Internet platforms that, in their view, are not doing enough to tackle online piracy.

This was also the topic of a speech given by MPAA chief Charles Rivkin, during the TPI Aspen Forum yesterday.

The title of the speech is telling. Rivkin’s “Declaration of Accountability for Cyberspace” is a play on John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” which was written 22 years ago.

Barlow, who passed away earlier this year, was an artist, an Internet activist, and one of the founding members of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. As an Internet pioneer, he repeatedly warned against stifling Internet restrictions, to keep cyberspace free and open.

According to the MPAA, however, Barlow’s vision of a cyberspace where inhabitants right any wrongs themselves has failed. Its chief instead argues that the future of the “healthy” Internet is in danger.

“I want to address one of the most vibrant and interconnected ecosystems in human history. That, of course, is the internet. And as we meet, the healthy and vibrant internet that we all want is in serious jeopardy,” Rivkin says.

“The title of this speech is ‘a declaration of accountability for cyberspace’ — a reference I’m sure is not lost on this audience,” he adds.

While the complaints about Internet piracy are not new, the MPAA ties piracy in with more recent debates about fake news, election meddling, and hate speech. From Cambridge Analytica to Infowars.

Rivkin calls for a national conversation on how to return the Internet to a place of vibrant but civil discourse. A place where fake news, hate speech, and piracy are properly dealt with.

Eventually, this leads the MPAA’s boss to Silicon Valley. Rivkin sees a major role for Internet platforms to do more to stop piracy and other types of abuse. If that doesn’t happen voluntarily, the US Government could step in, he suggests.

“The crescendo is rising within our ecosystem. The message is getting louder by the day: Internet platforms must bear responsibility. And they must do more to address the harms that, wittingly or not, they facilitate.

“Online platforms could increase their voluntary efforts to work with those affected to curb abuse of their services. Or perhaps Congress could recalibrate the online immunities to more explicitly require proactive steps as a condition of those protections,” Rivkin adds.

The widespread problem of online piracy is a sign of worse to come, the MPAA chief suggests.

“Online piracy is also the proverbial canary in a coal mine. The same pervasive theft that my industry faces is part of a continuum of toxic developments that harm all of us in this ecosystem – consumers, creators, and commercial operators alike,” he says.

In his speech, Rivkin refers to the “broken windows” theory to illustrate his point. This theory suggests that an atmosphere of lawlessness is created when small crimes are left unpunished. Seeing broken windows in the streets makes it more likely that others will start vandalizing as well.

This is also happening on the Internet today, according to Rivkin. When people continuously cross legal boundaries, by pirating, for example, others are more likely to follow suit.

To fix this problem, the MPAA has already started working with advertising companies, payment processors and other intermediaries. These companies have adopted a strict anti-piracy stance, and it is now time for the Twitters, YouTubes, and Facebooks to follow suit.

“If we want to bring back the internet we all want, it’s better to work together than cut each other off at the knees,” Rivkin says. “There are too many online windows broken and left unfixed for us to do anything but take collective action – and take it now.”

One of the major gripes of the MPAA and other rightsholder organizations is the fact that current laws shield Internet platforms from direct liability. This should be changed, if these platforms don’t work along, they argue.

Not everyone agrees that this is the case. Internet Association spokesman Noah Theran told Variety that the protections provided by laws such as the Communications Decency Act are a good thing.

“Without intermediary liability protections it would be harder, not easier, for online platforms to keep bad actors off the internet,” Theran notes, and many Internet platforms will share this view.

Without adding any commentary, we would welcome everyone to contrast Charles Rivkin’s “Declaration of Accountability for Cyberspace” with John Perry Barlow’s “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.”

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