By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
Although the MPAA has friends in Congress and the European Union that have managed to keep torrent sites like The Pirate Bay on the legal run, the industry trade organization wants more powers to combat piracy. Lobbying for laws like SOPA and PIPA have proven to be ineffective and won’t go after pirates who hide out of the country away from the MPAA’s reach. But a new trade court ruling could give Hollywood a frightening new weapon that may catch the rest of us in its crosshairs.
The new weapon comes in the form of the International Trade Commission. Think of it as the digital Hague. Originally founded to go after counterfeit electronics like fake iPhones, the International Trade Commission has expanded its reach into software and intellectual property thanks to a recent ruling it made pertaining to a 3D printing case, where a company called Clear Connect printed custom made plastic braces based on the unique contours of a patient’s mouth. Clear Connect has violated 3D patents in doing so, and has hidden behind it’s sub contractors that are based in countries like Pakistan, where US Patent law has no enforceable effect.
How Clear Connect has gotten around international copyright law has been to use digital models from their subcontractors, and printing them over the Internet to local printers here in the U.S. as an end-use product. Since Clear Connect isn’t importing a physical product, it was able to skirt counterfeit and copyright law. But the ITC has ruled that it has the authority to expand the definition of counterfeit “articles” to include digital data, and that is where the MPAA comes in.
With the ITC being able to go after pirated digital data, the MPAA can lobby the ITC to investigate and take legal action against pirates over the Internet, blocking access and even raiding servers. The MPAA has already been testing the waters with the recent Sony hack, where MPAA lawyers are working on a strategy to seek a site blocking order from the ITC based the Clear Connect precedent. “Seeking a site-blocking order in the ITC would appear to offer a number advantages over federal court litigation,” said an MPAA memo obtained by The Verge. “This now seems even more so given the ITC’s recent decision (albeit now on appeal).”
“If this is a successful technique, it’s basically going to require ISPs to build in all sorts of systems that would make it very easy for someone to take something down very very quickly,” says Charles Duan, an analyst with Public Knowledge.
While going after Pirates themselves have proven elusive, copies of the Pirate Bay pops up again a few days after offices are raided and servers shut down, being able to shut down consumer sites or punishing ISPs that don’t take action is a viable strategy. And using the ITC to enforce a blocking order is beneficial because it doesn’t come with the weight of federal bureaucracy.
The ITC ruling could have teeth, as it will allow the organization to bar companies from processing digital files if it views them as being infringing, and that would be a nightmare to police. Critics say, however, that to police ITC rulings would violate national sovereignity and would also require a complete renovation of the structure of the world wide web, something that would be difficult, if not impossible to achieve. But all too often, it’s the threat that will do about 90% of the work.
And that’s just what the MPAA is hoping for.
Hat tip: The Verge