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Posts Tagged ‘DMCA Abuse’

Stopping Google’s End Run: No Safe Harbor Privilege in Trade Agreements

January 6, 2020 Comments off

Many welcome the passing of the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).  Less discussed is the part of USMCA  that incorporates concepts of the failed DMCA from US law.  The chances of doing something to lessen the blow are dwindling now that the USMCA has passed the House of Representatives and moved on to the Senate.  We still have a chance to have an impact in the Senate, but time is going by.

Google’s USMCA Back Door

Getting the DMCA incorporated into USMCA is, let’s face it, a major lobbying victory for Google that takes the sting out of big losses in the European Parliament on the European Copyright Directive.

But see what they did there?  Google are having trouble stopping the headlong defense against its safe harbor abuse through the front door, so they make an end run by lobbying for language in USMCA that gives them their treasured “groovier than thou” safe harbor privilege.  That privilege saves Google and other Big Tech publishers from complying with the law same as anyone else, from copyright infringement to profiting from illegal goods to advertiser fraud.  And now of course they want USMCA to become a model for all other trade agreements–including, no doubt the coming bilateral agreement with the UK after Brexit.

That is what we need to stop cold in its tracks.  And by “we” I mean all creators–not just music, but artists in all copyright categories.

What is to be Done?

There’s a few ways to do this.  First, the simplest thing is to ask your Senators to make a statement for the record opposing the safe harbors being included in any trade deal, including USMCA.

Then, realize that significant legislation comes with something called “legislative history” which is a stand alone document that is a narrative explanation of what the Congress intended with the bill.  The legislative history for USMCA has not been finalized yet, but the clock is ticking.  (You can read the legislative history from the House of Representatives on the Music Modernization Act if you want to get an idea of what this will look like.  Both House and Senate issue these “reports”.)

Courts often review the legislative history when trying to “say what the law is” as a way of defining the intentions of Congress, sometimes years or decades after a particular bill was enacted into law.  It’s important that the USMCA legislative history reflect that Congress was not throwing the door open to Google to incorporate special privileges.

One other way is to require the U.S. Trade Representative to consult with relevant committees of Congress before ever doing this again.  This takes the back room dealing out of it, or at least limits it.

Creators should be concerned about perpetuating in other trade agreements the harms in the USMCA’s Article 20.89 “(Legal Remedies and Safe Harbors)”–and that’s the problem floating beneath the surface of USMCA.  Just at a time when not only has the copyright small claims court bill (CASE Act) passed overwhelmingly in the House, but we are also expecting the Copyright Office report on the DMCA safe harbor and we are starting to win victories over the value gap in Europe, we don’t need US trade agreements to perpetuate and expand the bad DMCA safe harbors (17 USC Sec. 512 et seq for those reading along at home).  Particularly when the world is moving past those privileges and US law is frozen in amber.

These concerns arise because the USMCA incorporates the highly controversial “DMCA safe harbor ”. This perpetuates the DMCA’s highly controversial and debilitating “whack a mole” regime that creators have suffered for decades just at a time when the CASE Act is about to give some relief, especially to photographers, film makers and music artists. Creators simply cannot tolerate such grotesque unfairness becoming standard practice for trade agreements by the United States especially if the US ends up negotiating a bilateral trade agreement with the UK after Brexit.

The Article effectively codifies the notification-counter-notification call and response of the so-called “DMCA safe harbor.” The infringer sending a counter-notification after receiving a takedown notice likely knows that there is no downside for challenging an independent artist if that artist cannot afford a federal lawsuit to enforce a reply to a counter-notification (17 USC Sec. 512(g)(2)(C)) much less international copyright enforcement.  The House of Representatives has recently passed the CASE Act to deal with this very problem and I expect the Senate will take up the CASE Act in the coming weeks.  It would be a bizarre twist for the Congress to plug one loophole only to allow another through the back door of trade agreements. (Not to mention the showdown over Google’s fair use loophole brewing in the Supreme Court in the Google v. Oracle case.)

Even if the US rolls back the DMCA safe harbor, it’s possible that we may be stuck with whatever safe harbor privilege that Google snuck into the USMCA as a stand alone regime.  That would be unacceptable.

Take Action

I encourage readers to call on your representatives and ask that they include in the legislative history of the USMCA language that would recognize the harms to artists and all creators of Article 20.89 that perpetuates the unworkable DMCA regime.  The legislative history should also disclaim the use of the Article as a model for future trade agreements and require the US Trade Representative to consult with the relevant committees of Congress before negotiating future agreements that address safe harbors. This is particularly urgent given the Copyright Office’s current review of the DMCA and legislative events in Europe moving in the exact opposite direction of the Article.

If you agree with these concerns, I recommend that you call the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121 and tell your Senators that you want (1) the USMCA legislative history to place a limitation on incorporating DMCA in future trade deals and (2) Congress to require the US Trade Representative to consult with Congress.  And you want them to make a statement for the record opposing inserting safe harbors in any trade deals, including USMCA.

The Artist Rights Watch motto is “Never Take It for Granted that Justice Will Be Done.”  We have a chance to fix this–if not us, then who, if not now, then when?

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Not Very Bright: Things are out of hand at YouTube, just they way they planned it

December 29, 2019 Comments off

To paraphrase “Deep Throat” from All the President’s Men, don’t believe the myths the media has created about Google.  The truth is, these people are not very bright and things got out of hand.

Bloomberg’s and  have written one of the most revealing stories yet about just how out of control YouTube really is and just how incompetent YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki is to handle it all (“Inside YouTube’s Year of Responsibility“).  (How Susan W came to have the YouTube job I’m sure has nothing to do with being the ex-sister-in-law of Google founder Sergei Brin.)

It boils down to this:  Google has been caught out.  YouTube was founded on the usual Google bedrock principle–steal everything.  Beg forgiveness if you get caught and emote about innovation, free speech, and any other hackneyed shibboleth that contributed to your D grade in freshman English comp from those teachers who didn’t understand your true brilliance.

Those “principles” may work for the Boys Who Wouldn’t Grow Up whilst inside their Mountain View bubble, but it was only a matter of time before the public began to catch on.  And the apocalyptic algorithm is that more the Google scaled, the more likely it was that the public would catch on like an appointment in Samarra.  When that happened, somebody may find out how bad it really is behind that curtain.  Because the truth is, these Googlers are not that bright, and things definitely got out of hand at scale.

So it was only a matter of time.  This is important because Google’s YouTube is the largest video search platform in the world and is the second largest search engine–right behind Google.com.  Unless you want that corrupting influence being piped into your children’s brains, you may want to think about how to stop it.

That ticking clock resonates in one of the most telling quotes in the Bloomberg post from YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki:

“If we were held liable for every single piece of content that we recommended, we would have to review it,” she said. “That would mean there would be a much smaller set of information that people would be finding. Much, much smaller.”

Ms. Wojcicki just described both the essence of the value gap and why YouTube is nothing like television no matter how many times Googlers aspire for it to be true.  YouTube is not “disrupting” television; rather it is corrupting television.  YouTube is television’s distorted mutant.

When Ms. Wojcicki says there would be a “much smaller set of information that people would be finding,” the clear implication is that there would be much less content for YouTube to sell ads against if YouTube took responsibility for everything on their platform.  You know, take responsibility like TV does.  (YouTube’s endless braying about “fair use” is misplaced–the issue is about taking responsibility before you get to the infringement that leads to the fair use defense.)

Ms. Wojcicki’s statement does not mean that just because the YouTube offering would be smaller it would be worse, which is the implication it seems she would like you to draw.  It doesn’t mean the status quo is “better” either, it just means that in an accountable future YouTube would take responsibility for YouTube being an honest broker.  It also doesn’t mean that anyone would be “censored” unless you think enforcing standards and practices on the digital equivalent of the public airwaves is “censorship” or you think artists protecting their rights impermissibly restricts speech.

Ms. Wojcicki’s statement also provides some insight into YouTube’s current crisis involving children using the service.  Because at Google, small is not beautiful–scale is beautiful.  And the consequences be damned.  Bloomberg observes:

[In addition to copyright infringement, currently] YouTube’s biggest challenge is kids’ privacy. In September, the FTC fined Google for illegally tracking children for its ads business, forcing significant changes to YouTube’s operations….The FTC is now rewriting its COPPA rules [the US law that protects children online] and has invited public comment. In a filing, Google told the agency it was worried about any laws forcing it to “identify and police” videos aimed at kids. The company was, in effect, arguing it couldn’t know for sure the age of its audience and shouldn’t be punished for that.

Let’s understand something–illegally tracking children for ads has nothing to do with standards and practices.  It has nothing to do with innovation, free speech or fair use.  Tracking kids for ads was not an algorithmic glitch, either.  This problem is entirely human-made and is entirely the result of choices made by humans who work for Ms. Wojcicki, if not Ms. Wojcicki herself.  The problem is made by the people who are supposed to be in charge, who stockholders task with making good choices for the company (in this case, Larry Page and Ms. Wojcicki’s ex-brother in law, see my NY Daily News op-ed on Google’s dual class voting stock).

Google wants all of the benefits and none of the burdens of operating a media business.  Their justification is that they do it online.  If kids or artists or advertisers get chewed up in the process, they’d have you believe that it’s not their fault.

In one sense, they have a point.  Regulators have allowed them to get away with a host of travesties for 15 years all based on a tortured reading of two safe harbors (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the DMCA).  You can’t really blame Google for thinking that having established a business model based on corruption that has made a lot of people filthy rich, they should be allowed to continue to get away with the free ride.

YouTube profits from chaos and the sheer scale of so many harms to the society from a tortured expression of the important values of fair use to blatant child endangerment.  YouTube executives supposedly serve society, at least according to the nepotism of Silicon Valley royalty.

But if you expect them to meaningfully disrupt the highly profitable situation that they’ve let get out of hand at scale, the current executive team will disappoint if left to their own devices.

A Cautionary Tale for Congress: Big Tech Uses Fake Grassroots Interference Lobbying In Europe

March 11, 2019 Comments off

There’s a sound policymaking reason why the European Parliament should ignore the bombardment of email and social media messaging it has recently endured for copyright reform.  That reason is well articulated in a 2010 memo by Professor Cass Sunstein (then Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs) when he cautioned the Obama Administration against relying on social media for making policy:

“Because, in general, the results of online rankings, ratings, and tagging (e.g., number of votes or top rank) are not statistically generalizable, they should not be used as the basis for policy or planning.”

In a post-Cambridge Analytica world where social media platforms not only are ubiquitous but also have earned the distrust of policy-makers and voters as well as parents, Sunstein’s nine-year old admonition is especially prescient-but he could have added “easy to fake.” This would apply to the new boiler rooms of fake Twitter accounts with distorted ratios of tweets to followers, or followed accounts to likes–such as the infamous Internet Research Agency.

Sunstein’s memo is both ominous and also relevant given developments at the European Parliament over the last few months.  Big Tech’s interference lobbyists are fighting the last war against safe harbor reform using “fake grassroots” online campaigns against Members instead of legitimate advocacy.

Specifically, the reaction of multinational Big Tech legacy players to the European Parliament’s safe harbor reform effort demonstrates a toxic brew of corporations attacking Members.   That’s a dark turn to Sunstein’s analysis.  Crucially, it appears that bot farming techniques and mass email attacks verging on denial of service are weapons in Big Tech’s interference lobbying arsenal despite their hollow assurances to multiple governments about policing interference by state actors in national elections.

Think it can’t happen here?  Think again.

Europe’s Safe Harbor Reform

Known formally as the “European Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” or informally as “Article 13”, the EU legislation is intended to update the law and, among other things, substantially cuts back the legacy safe harbor privilege that is so valuable to Big Tech. (See Emmanuel Legrand’s excellent summary.)  It’s understandable that they would–Facebook, Google, Twitch and others have based their trillion-dollar market caps on what otherwise would be called piracy–also known as the “value gap”.

Congress has yet to grapple with the US version of the DMCA safe harbor (referring generally to Section 512 of the Copyright Act), although the Copyright Office is beginning field hearings on the much needed overhaul.  Originally conceived in 1998 as a way to afford a little latitude to reasonable people acting reasonably, Big Tech and its acolytes have distorted the DMCA “safe harbor” beyond recognition in the last twenty years and converted into an alibi.

In the last session, Congress took an important step by cutting back a different safe harbor in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act with the SESTA-FOSTA package.  SESTA-FOSTA eliminated a safe harbor for sex trafficking which seems uncontroversial-but caused a huge lobbying counterattack by Big Tech.  If you caught any of the manipulated onslaught against SESTA-FOSTA, you have a taste of what the European Parliament is experiencing with their Copyright Directive.

There’s no question that Google and Facebook lobbyists interfered with the EU’s legislation–the companies threatened an MEP that they would interfere in the EU elections if they were challenged on Article 13:

German MEP Truepel gives a first hand confirmation of what happened.  Further, in an official blog post that has become controversial because it struck a little close to home, the European Commission commented conclusively on the MEPs’ experience with Big Tech’s “fake grassroots” campaign and interference lobbying tactics:

[T]here is ample evidence from respected sources, here and here and perhaps here or here or indeed here that ‘Big Technology’ has even ‘created’ grassroots campaigns against the Copyright Directive in order to make it look and sound as if the EU is acting against the ‘will of the people’….

Do Google, Facebook or others really need to pay to persuade?

Are we in a world where ordinary people side with the fire breathing dragon against the knight with a blue and yellow shield?

The Fake Interference Campaign

Yes, Google and Facebook attempted to pass off a blistering email spam campaign targeting Members as a spontaneous grassroots uprising.  Not just once, but three times on three separate votes in Parliament on the Copyright Directive-even after they had been caught faking and interfering by major news outlets.

The first “campaign” was around a committee vote that resulted in a win for Big Tech. Thanks to David Lowery and Volker Reick, the press called out the fakery in exposes by the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung among others.  Big Tech attempted to counter that expose by organizing in-person protests after making online threats of the “we’ll show you we’re real” variety across Europe.

Far from setting Europe ablaze, some estimate that these protests drew fewer than a total of 500 across Europe in multiple locations.  Pictures taken at these “protests” suggest that they were primarily organized by the Pirate Party, a fringe political party with one MEP that supports piracy and safe harbors as its name suggests.

Expose or no expose, the “fake grassroots” and spamming were repeated as the Copyright Directive went through successive procedural votes-which Big Tech lost miserably.  Yet the multinationals keep running the same interference play and kept getting sacked.

Members and the European Commission Speak Out Against Interference

Members were not fooled.  One example is an odd Tweetstorm against reform by suspicious accounts.  Members were subjected to attempts to stimulate the documented “emotional contagion” that drives social media.  A typical bot-like Twitter account against the Copyright Directive would have followers in low double digits or fewer but tens of thousands of tweets and a disproportionately high number of “likes” (in some cases over 100,000).  That ratio suggests that the account was used to capitalize on the Twitter “ratioing” algorithm to drive the corporate message into user timelines.  One wonders what did Twitter know and when did they know it?

In addition to the Tweetstorm, interference lobbyists ran a near-DDOS level email campaign that was actually counter-productive.  When asked at a press conference why the vote tally switched from opposing the Copyright Directive in the first committee vote to overwhelmingly supporting it in the next plenary vote, German MEP Helga Truepel pulled no punches:

“I think it’s due to this message spamming campaign. I talked to some of my colleagues here [and they] are totally [angry]…”

The European Commission’s official blog echoes Sunstein:

So next time, when you get a sponsored message on your timeline, which says something like ‘the EU will kill the world wide web as we know it’, stop, pause and consider for a moment. Ask yourself: Cui Bono? Who really benefits from this message or this wider negative campaign?

We know the answer to that question.  Google and Facebook became the biggest corporations in commercial history by manipulating legacy safe harbors in ways that neither Congress nor the EU intended.  Despite assurances about policing interference by bad actors on their networks, the European experience suggests they are actively using similar interference techniques to protect their privilege.

Europe has shown the world that legacy Big Tech business models can be brought into the 21st Century through well thought-out legislation.  But Congress would do well to arm itself against comparable “fake grassroots” interference campaigns in making policy for vital DMCA safe harbor reform to close the value gap.

[This post first appeared in the MusicTechPolicy newsletter, sign up for free version here.]

T-Bone Burnett’s Comments on Reform of the DMCA Safe Harbor

February 22, 2017 Comments off

The U.S. Copyright Office has invited the public to comment on potential reforms of the DMCA “safe harbors” and the incomparable T-Bone Burnett delivered this video version of his insightful comments on DMCA abuse.  (See also Billboard article on T-Bone’s comment and my 2006 post on MTP, The DMCA is Not An Alibi.)

It is important to make the distinction that T-Bone makes and that Beggars Group Chairman Martin Mills made in his Canadian Music Week keynote–the problem with the DMCA safe harbors is not so much with ISPs like AT&T and Verizon that take respecting copyright seriously (both were in the Copyright Alert System).  The problem is with companies like Google that don’t respect copyright as T-Bone makes clear.

It is important for Congress to keep this in mind–and any failure to do so will call into question Google’s massive lobbying power.

“Out of Balance”: @beggarsgroup Martin Mills’ Rallying Cry on DMCA Abuse at Canadian Music Week

May 10, 2014 1 comment

Martin Mills is Chairman of the Beggars Group, home to some of the best known brands in the music business–4AD, XL, Matador, and Rough Trade, as well as the Beggars Banquet catalog.  In addition to his companies, Martin is a leading advocate for independent record companies around the world.  He’s also a fine example of what used to be called a “records man”, a term you won’t find in Wikipedia.

Martin’s companies have a long history of finding and developing some of the most compelling artists in our business including Adele, Friendly Fires, Jack White, Radiohead, Thom Yorke, Atoms for Peace, Sigur Rós, The National, Interpol and Iron and Wine to name a few in no particular order.

I attended Martin’s keynote at Canadian Music Week on Thursday, and he gave me permission to reprint his speech.  Given the current attention devoted to copyright issues in the U.S. thanks to Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante, I’m going to post it in two parts.  Today’s post is actually the second part of Martin’s speech concerning the DMCA safe harbors, a topic that was the subject of a recent IP Subcommittee hearing in the House of Representatives.

We’ll post the first part about commercial balance in a coming discussion of commercial negotiations with online retailers.

This part will address the problems that Martin has with interpretations of the DMCA and notice and takedown-type statutes in various countries.  These interpretations, particularly by Google, go to the lack of respect for music and creators demonstrated by Google and in particular by YouTube.

Out of Balance: DMCA Abuse

I’d like to take a little time to say a few things.

I’m often asked what I actually do day to day, now that I have a company of 150 people taking care of things, and it’s not an easy question to answer.

But the answer is – balance.

I maintain many different balances, and that can be a subtle and delicate process.

Balance in personal relationships in the business.

Balance between the four labels in my family.

Balance between commercial needs and artistic integrity.

Balance between promotional opportunity and the need to maintain the value of our artists rights.

But we operate in an industry today that is out of balance. And we need a balanced industry like we need a balanced diet.

Imbalance in the Safe Harbors:  YouTube and Grooveshark Rely on Distorting the DMCA

[An] imbalance I want to talk about is the safe harbour provisions, and similar terms in other countries. They were introduced, with some foresight, by the legislators in the USA framing the DMCA, to provide a notice and take down procedure for unlicensed content. But the legislation has been distorted into a protective wall behind which cyberlockers and torrent sites, and companies such as YouTube and Grooveshark, operate.

The original intent was to protect reasonable people acting reasonably from falling foul of the law, to enable the digital economy to grow without “ gotcha “ law suits against ISP’s who had no idea that their networks were being used for infringement. They were not intended to provide fortress walls behind which companies could build billion dollar businesses on content that had not been cleared. They were never intended to become a de facto “ licence “.

To draw an offline analogy, these provisions would allow someone to burgle your house and remove its contents, with their only risk being that if you caught them, they’d have to return them – and maybe apologise. And then do it again. And again. And again.

Copyright is meant to allow you to control your own work. That is totally undermined when another law says that people in effect can ignore it with impunity. Would we consider a safe harbour law allowing small restaurants to ignore food hygiene laws ? Or a safe harbour for personal data being inappropriately used ? Of course not.

YouTube’s Distortion of Safe Harbors Harms the Indies Most

As you might imagine, policing the YouTubes of this world for infringing content is a herculean task, one beyond all but the largest of companies. For my community, the independents, it’s a game of whack-a-mole they can only lose.

These provisions are being abused. Many of the companies taking advantage of them are not start-ups that need a break, they dwarf everyone in this room. They’ve been in business long enough to now be able to identify that content. They know what it is.

They should not need that protection any more. Those provisions hobble creators, and they give those that use them an unfair competitive advantage over companies such as iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and Rdio who DO pre-licence content. Google says that safe harbours have been crucial not only to them but also to every other internet company. That’s not true. And Youtube says it’s paid out a billion dollars to music rights owners – but so has Spotify, from one thirtieth as many users. That economic discrepancy is because of the unreasonable economic advantage Youtube has over its digital service competitors because of its use of the safe harbour provisions.

Notice and Staydown:  US Copyright Reform Should Address DMCA Abuse and Restore Balance

The American government is increasingly looking at reforming copyright laws. As long as that reform creates a balance between strengthening copyright and allowing investment in the creative world, and adapting it to a world never envisaged, I support that intention. But I believe part of that change must be to remove the safe harbour loophole.

We are at the point at which notice and take down must become notice and stay down.

To conclude, whilst thanking you all again, I would like to quote from one company’s evidence to Australia’s Communication Ministry a few months ago.

 “ We believe there is significant, credible evidence emerging that online piracy is primarily an availability and pricing problem “

Whereas that might have been true ten years ago, today, in an era with myriad licensed services (and Australia has more than most ), and with streaming services with free tiers, I think that’s, frankly, rubbish.

Who was it from ? Google, the parent of YouTube, one of the companies that have made billions on the back of a statutory provision intended to protect ordinary people acting innocently.

Thank you.

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