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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Megaupload, Newzbin, TPB - how much more publicity will the music industry gift the sites they don't want us to use?

Now I spend a lot of time online, but I'd never heard of a website called Newzbin until copyright owners filed a lawsuit in London against the site, which the rights holders won in March 2010.

Newzbin is, apparently, the place to get copyright infringing digital warez like movies and albums.  The site charges membership fees and, without condoning what Newzbin is doing in any way, I'd bet they've seen an uptick in traffic - if not membership - since copyright owners won an injunction forcing major UK ISP British Telecom to block access to the site.

Why? Because the site has been in the news quite a lot recently.

Similarly, I'd never heard of a digital locker service called Megaupload until Universal Music Group (UMG) allegedly got one of Megaupload's videos pulled from YouTube on copyright grounds.

The controversy?  The video in question was a specially commissioned advert for Megaupload.  There is, Megaupload argue in defence, no copyright infringement whatsoever.

Adding to the intrigue, the commissioned video features P. Diddy, Alicia Keys, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg, amongst others.  These A-list stars offered their tacit endorsement at a time when the Recoding Industry Association of America (RIAA) had branded Megaupload a "rogue" site.

The Megaupload case is potentially more interesting than Newzbin because the latter, according to a March 2010 ruling in the High Court in London, represents an unlawful business profiting on the copyright of others.

Conversely there's no evidence, other than the RIAA assertion, that Megaupload is in anyway engaged in any illegal activity.  Megaupload is now suing UMG for the erroneous takedown.

Interesting points in this dispute:
  • The digital service is fighting back.  The fact Megaupload commissioned the music superstars in the first place indicate they have serious financial clout.  The filing of a lawsuit against UMG indicates a new front opening up in the digital copyright wars and a shift in the power and cash balance between new and old media.
  • Megaupload has since come out in against American legislation the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), making the case for free speech and due process to prevent legitimate websites being hit in the battle to cleanse the web of copyright infringing content.
  • The takedown and associated legal tussle could actually help Megaupload make more money.  The Streisand Effect demonstrated the relationship between public curiosity online in the face of an attempt to censor information on a subject.  Megaupload is a new cause célèbre in a tinderbox of discontent at copyright over-reach and an old media landgrab for control of the internet to protect their analogue world charging models and digital deals with preferred suppliers.  

The move by UMG is just about the worst imaginable, if the aim was to prevent the service advertising itself.  In fact the action is just one in a long line of PR blunders across the old media industries, highlighting what little the analogue world understands of new media.

Ever heard of a film called Downfall? (Bear with me!) Sure you have, but did you know about it before the internet meme of the Downfall parody?  The Downfall parody has probably catapulted a mediocre European war epic into one of the best known films of the internet.  Downfall got publicity other film makers dream of, yet parodies started getting yanked from YouTube last year on copyright grounds.

And herein lies the madness in the control-dominated world of old media.  They stamp out sharing, parodies and remixes; things which could be give their product massive added visibility, whilst simultaneously advertising to the world how to get hold of infringing content, thrusting "rogue" sites into the spotlight by demanding unreasonable measures like national web filters to protect their business models.

Additionally, the continued and calculated downbeat outlook from the recording and film industries could be self-defeating.  It's said that several music lobby groups worldwide have an official policy never to put out a "good news" press release in countries where piracy is seen as a problem.  Could this policy be putting-off investors in content, because of the perception that piracy is a bigger problem than it actually is?

It's supremely ironic that music industry lawyers and lobbyists are fighting a battle with search engines to demote down the search rankings links to infringing content.  Links to websites like The Pirate Bay, when the very same lobbyists and PR people have spent the last few years advertising The Pirate Bay to the world by telling the press how important it is the site be banned.

Who's never heard of The Pirate Bay? Who needs Google to find The Pirate Bay?!


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