U.S. Govt Launches Consultation on Upload Filters and Other Anti-Piracy Tools

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The U.S. Copyright Office has launched a public consultation to evaluate various technical measures that can identify and protect copyrighted content online. With help from various stakeholders and the public at large, the Office hopes to get a better understanding of the pros and cons of these tools, including upload filters, and the potential role of the Government.

pirate-flagA year ago, Senator Thom Tillis released a discussion draft of the “Digital Copyright Act” (DCA) a potential successor to the current DMCA.

The DCA envisions thorough changes to the way online intermediaries approach the piracy problem. Among other things, they would have to ensure that pirated content stays offline after it’s taken down once.

This takedown and staydown approach would rely on technical protection tools, which include upload filters. This is a sensitive subject that previously generated quite a bit of pushback when the EU drafted its Copyright Directive.

Senator Tillis believes that automated tools have potential nonetheless. Together with Senator Patrick Leahy he wrote a letter to the U.S. Copyright Office this summer, asking it to look into the matter.

Specifically, the Senators asked the Copyright Office to “convene a representative working group of relevant stakeholders to achieve the identification and implementation of technical measures.”

Copyright Office Zooms in on Anti-Piracy Tools

This suggestion was picked up and this week the Copyright Office announced that it will launch a series of consultations on the various technical tools that can help to detect and remove pirated content from online platforms.

These solutions are by no means new. The Copyright Office mentions that platforms such as YouTube, Dropbox, and Scribd have already developed their own tools. At the same time, commercially available solutions such as Audible Magic are available too.

“Some technical measures to identify and protect copyrighted works online have been developed and deployed by or for online service providers and other stakeholders,” the Office notes.

“Proprietary systems used internally by platforms to identify and filter potentially infringing uploaded material include Scribd’s BookID, Dropbox’s unique identifier system, and YouTube’s ContentID.”

Pros and Cons

The goal of the consultations, which will start with a plenary session in February, is tobring various stakeholders together to discuss the advantages and drawbacks of these tools.

The problem with proprietary systems is that they are not widely available. In addition, not all stakeholders have input into these systems. Through the consultation, the Copyright Office hopes to discuss the strengths and weaknesses in an open setting.

To get an impression of the various viewpoints the Office is asking to input ahead of the first meeting, the consultation announcement includes various questions that should serve as a starting point for the discussions.

Starting Questions

These questions consider both the positive and negative consequences, as the examples below show.

“To what extent would the adoption and broad implementation of existing or future technical measures by stakeholders, including online service providers and rightsholders,
be likely to assist in addressing the problem of online copyright piracy?”

“Would the adoption and broad implementation of such existing or future technical measures have negative effects? If so, what would be the effects, and who would be affected?”

The Copyright Office doesn’t take a stance when it comes to potential Government interventions, but through its questions, it hopes to weigh stakeholders’ opinions.

“Can the government facilitate the adoption or implementation of technical measures, and if so, how?” the Office asks.

Needless to say, the consultation will probably trigger a heated debate about the pros and cons of upload filters, much like the one we saw in Europe roughly three years ago.

All stakeholders, including members of the public, are invited to have their voices heard. More details, including all questions, are available in the Copyright Office’s official announcement that was published a few hours ago.

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