US Government Works on Consumer Awareness Campaign to Combat Piracy

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The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is working on a public awareness campaign to combat online piracy and counterfeiting. This plan is welcomed by copyright holders, who offer several suggestions for its implementation. According to the Copyright Alliance, online services should play a key role in educating and warning users about the costs and risks of piracy.

Early last year, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a report with several suggestions on how to combat online piracy and counterfeiting.

These recommendations were made in response to a memorandum from former President Trump, which called for concrete action on this front.

One of the key suggestions was to establish a National Consumer Awareness Campaign. This should aim to make the general public aware of the risks of copyright infringement, with the goal to reduce it in the long run.

National Consumer Awareness Campaign

The plan was picked up by US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) which is now working on making it a reality. Ideally, this would happen with help from various stakeholders including copyright holders and online services, which were asked to provide input.

At the moment, no concrete plans are published, but the USPTO hinted at several awareness campaign options. This includes curricula at schools and public service announcements specifically targeted at social media users.

This week, several stakeholders submitted their comments and suggestions for the public awareness campaign. One of the most detailed submissions comes from the Copyright Alliance, which wholeheartedly supports the plan.

Copyright Alliance Offers Suggestions

The Copyright Alliance notes that it’s important to educate the general public about the risks and costs of online piracy and counterfeiting. At the same time, people should learn how to distinguish between legal and illegal activity online.

While rightsholders will be eager to help, the Alliance stresses that online services should have a prominent role too, since they can easily reach a broad audience.

“Importantly, we urge the USPTO to engage with copyright owners and online service providers (OSPs), especially social media companies, which are often in the best position to engage with their users, to develop agreed-upon, straightforward, and uniform education materials.”

Malware Risks…

The educational curricula and messages should inform people that piracy is not a victimless crime, the Copyright Alliance suggests. It impacts millions of people in the creative industries. In addition, users of pirate devices and sites put themselves at serious risk too.

“In addition to threats to the greater copyright community, consumers often do not appreciate the risks to their own personal safety and privacy that come with consuming pirated content over the internet until it is too late,” the Copyright Alliance writes.

The group points to the malware research reports from the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA). While these reports are not always backed up by hard evidence, at least not in public, they could form the basis of an educational campaign according to the group.

Concrete Tips

The Copyright Alliance sums up various suggestions and plans and also provides some concrete tips for the public.

For example, when an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. “Beware of services, especially IPTV providers, that advertise by using slogans like ‘never pay for cable again’ or ‘watch the latest movies for free’,” the Alliance writes.

In addition, the group also notes that “if you download an app through a third-party source, there’s a good chance it may be infected with malware — particularly video streaming apps.”

‘Online Platforms Should Take Responsibility’

The overall message is that the public should be made aware of the costs and risks of piracy and counterfeiting. Perhaps just as importantly, the Copyright Alliance believes that online services should play a key role in this, and not just because they have a broad audience. They have a responsibility to do more, as their platforms are exploited by pirates.

“In light of increases in piracy and threats to consumers during the pandemic, we believe that more work must be done by internet platforms and service providers who earn massive profits through online commerce and content delivery and whose networks are exploited by those who traffic in pirated works,” the Copyright Alliance writes.

The USPTO will review these and other suggestions to see how they fit into a National Public Awareness Campaign. For now, we haven’t seen any responses from online service providers, but that may change if they are indeed asked to take an active role.

Balanced Information is Required

While educating the public is a good thing, we expect that all claims and reports will be properly vetted if they are to be publicly repeated to millions of people, possibly even in schools.

The last time copyright holders were heavily involved in a copyright curriculum, it wasn’t without controversy. A pilot in California which aimed to teach copyright lessons to children from kindergarten through sixth grade had to be revised because it completely ignored fair use.


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