New Cops on the Online Video Beat

Bill would boost goverment, ISP power to unplug infringers

A bill that would crack down on illegal
streaming was drawing a lot of attention in Washington
right before the election break. It’s understandable:
The future of video delivery is riding on serving up
TV- and Web-original content online.

Protecting that content, says Daniel
Castro, senior analyst for the think
tank Information Technology & Innovation
Foundation, “is the difference
between [broadcasters] being able to
charge for content and not. If they
want to have a business model, something
like this [bill] needs to happen.”

The bill could take a bite out of online
crime, though some content providers
are concerned it might give ISPs
too much power.

Introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
chairman of the Judiciary Committee,
the legislation would give the
Justice Department more power to pull
the plug on U.S. Websites it found to be
offering “infringing content” by allowing it to shut down the
domain names of those suspects.

But sources on both sides of the bill say the latest version
would permit ISPs or ad networks doing business with suspected
infringers to pull the plug without fear of breach of contract.

Studios, broadcasters and various unions support the bill as
a new weapon in their battle against copyright infringement.
There is, however, some concern in the ad community that giving
ISPs or ad networks policing power is the wrong way to go.

Ted Utz, managing director of Petry
Digital, which sells ads for TV station
Websites in the majority of markets, says
that it doesn’t make sense for ISPs to be
responsible for policing the content on
potentially infringing Websites “so far
removed from their core business.” He
says it’s important to protect content
wherever it appears, but that the Justice
Department should make that call.

As to protecting clients ad networks
represent from having their brands associated
with pirated content, Utz agrees it’s an issue, but adds
that advertisers are increasingly concerned about where their
content is placed and already have stringent requirements.

Castro agrees it would be better to leave identifi cation of offending
sites to Justice. “Having the attorney
general do it takes the onus off individual
companies for having to decide
what is good and what is bad,” he says.

Putting a sharper point on the threat
of controlling potentially pirated content
came with the emergence last month of a
couple of online streaming sites carrying
broadcast TV channels without individual
payment for either the privilege (as
broadcasters view it) or the right (as the
companies view it) of carriage.

Currently, video sites Ivi TV and
FilmOn are streaming TV-station signals
as part of online pay video packages.
Their defense is that they are
online multichannel video providers
much like cable operators—at least
when it comes to copyright law allowing the retransmission
of local TV signals essentially for free, but not subject to
the retransmission consent regime that requires negotiating
individually with broadcasters for local signals.

The Big Four Networks and their studios have sued both
sites, arguing they are doing “irreparable harm.”

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