Wednesday 9 September 2015

The CopyKat: splattering times

TorrentFreak tells us that Google processed an astounding 16.68 million takedown notices in just one week in August, unsurprisingly the highest number ever seen in a seven day period. To compare - this contrasts with  just 158,000 takedown requests in a week in Aughust 2011. By November 2012 this had grown to 2.2 million in a week. The takedown notices are usually issued under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaints against the Google search engine, requesting that links to copyright infringing material be removed from its database so that they no longer appear when users search for certain key words - with music takedowns being a significant chunk of this.

On the matter of safe harbours,  PRS's Head Of Legal, Policy & Public Affairs, Frances Lowe, told the Westminster Media Forum that a lack of clarity over what services could and should be protected by (US and) EU 'safe harbour' provisions disadvantaged both rights owners and propery licensed platforms: "The UK's songwriters and composers play a significant role in the UK economy and its exports", she said. "And the EU is their most important market. And their current priority is securing fair income from the use of their music across the online ecosystem, so that careers can be sustained". "Songwriters are currently being squeezed", she added, before targeting in particular the "user-upload platforms that are unlicensed or under-licensed" because they claim they are protected by safe harbours. This means they pay nothing or less for the songs they use, "despite the fact that without those songs they would not be able to raise capital, or pay their shareholders, or make a profit". The PRS recently lauched litigation against music streaming platform SoundCloud and Lowe said "Online services built on user-upload platforms which make content available to the public should not be able to plead safe harbour".


The BBC says its planning to launch a ‘New Music Discovery Service’ streaming service which will take on the likes of Apple Music, Tidal and Spotifywhich would make the 50,000 tracks broadcast by the BBC every month available to stream for a limited period. This digital platform will go one better than the ‘BBC Playlister’ initiative launched in 2013, which allowed listeners and viewers to transfer playlists of radio DJs’ shows to Spotify and other services. What those currently reviewing the BBC and the Licence Fee on behalf of the UK Government as part of charter renewal will make of a fully-fledged online music streaming service, owned and hosted by the Beeb, remains to be seen - but the BBC justify the move as an 'enhancement' to current services saying "Through this digital music offer, we would reinvent our role as a trusted guide, in partnership with our audience and with the UK music industry" addding "Together, the BBC and its audiences would curate music in new ways, enabling the discovery of more of all the music we play across the schedules of our many radio stations and TV channels" and  the service would also be "fully open and integrated with other digital providers", with users "able to transfer playlists between digital music products, and access them after BBC availability has expired through third-party providers". The BBC is already facing vocal criticism for unfairly squezing local news providers and "completely crowding out national newspapers" , as well as producing highly commercial programming like Strictly Come Dancing, Great British Bake Off and Top Gear to take on the likes of ITV in unnecessary prime time battles. The BBC's spend on its online operations as well as BBC3 and BBC4 are thought to be at riskHowever, MBW reports that all three major labels are some way off licensing the new service– and have expressed early concerns about permitting a completely free music streaming service to use their catalogue.   Comment here

The Australian federal government has been urged on to stop the process of implementing an ISP copyright code.  The Internet users rights group Electronic Frontiers Australia has confirmed it wants the process to be halted, with its call coming in the wake of the introduction of new anti-piracy website blocking laws. The EFA said today that while it does not condone copyright infringement, international experience shows that copyright notice schemes are of “marginal value at best in addressing online copyright infringement" and puts the blame for infringement on a lack of legitionate services delivering what consumers want. EFA Executive Officer Jon Lawrence said the process should not continue until the government has conducted a “detailed cost-benefit analysis to ensure that it is not an unnecessary additional regulatory burden that will further harm competition in the sector and result in higher connectivity charges for Australians.” More here and here.

Billboard reports that Russian police have opened a probe into the collecting society RAO, which allegedly embezzled 500 million roubles ($7.4 million at the current exchange rate). The probe is centered on allegations that RAO, Russia's sole state-accredited collection society for authors’ rights royalties, embezzled some of the royalty fees it had collected by buying real estate and later transferring it to a shell company. According to reports, between 2007 and 2011, RAO purchased four buildings in central Moscow, which later changed hands several times, ending up in the possession of several other companies and individuals. The investigation comes at a time when the Russian government is controversially pushing RAO to merge with two other state-accredited collecting societies, VOIS (which deals with neighbouring rights) and RSP (which collects a one-percent tax on imports of electronic devices that can be used for copying content).

Where copyright leads .... others follow. The number of private prosecutions, once lonely road walked by copyright owners and not many others, is on the rise in the UK - with an estimated 300-500 private prosecutions last year - with the least three years seeing a 30+% rise year on year. The BPI, Sky TV, the Federation Against Copyright Theft and the Premier League have used private prosecutions as a useful tool against  alleged infringers - often succeeding even where the Police and the CPS have shown little interest. Now private prosecutions have been used in cases involving traffic offences, fraud and even domestic violence - the families of two women who were killed in the Glasgow bin lorry tragedy are threatening to bring a private prosecution against the driver of the lorry.

And finally - can you copyright an ink splatter? Well it seems Getty Images thinks you can: The Register reports that "Venerable hacker publication 2600 is fighting off what looks like an early candidate for the most egregious copyright infringement accusation of 2015". It seems that 2600 used an ink-splatter effect in 2012 and now group called Trunk Archive – ultimately owned by Getty Images – claims the image is theirs and the use was spotted by their crawler bots - and the use is infringing - with 2600 saying "We thought it was a joke for almost an entire day until one of us figured out that they were actually claiming our use of a small bit of ink splatter that was on one of their images was actionable". The ink splatter is in the bottom right section of the 2600 publication. In a twist, BoingBoing say that the ink spaltt isn't even Getty's - tracing the source of the ink splotches to a Finnish artist. More here.

Getty are also facing flak after demanding nearly $1,000 for one year's use of an image of a penguin that is actually part of a 'semi-popular' internet meme, better known as the Socially Awkward Penguin from a German Blog. Itb seems the issue is that the penguin itself could have been plucked from a photograph taken by George Mobley for National Geographic - although its now just a simplified cartoon penguin. Getty justified its actions to the DailyDot saying “Getty Images has an immense responsibility to the 200,000+ artists we work with to ensure that their work is properly licensed when used by commercial entities. Bear in mind that many artists themselves are small businesses, and are entitled to be paid for their work.” and pointing to the image embed tool that it launched last year.

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