We look at the best and worst methods of tackling digital piracy across different countries, examining copyright law from the strictest to the most lax.
Countries all over the world are struggling to deal with the epidemic of digital piracy. Today’s digital environment has nurtured an expectation, particularly within younger generations, of on-demand content. This is arguably fuelled by content availability - or lack thereof - on legal streaming services; Netflix could actually be making piracy worse, despite it once being hailed as the cure to digital piracy.
So which tactics are proving effective? We look at how different countries are tackling piracy with varying degrees of strictness, and evaluate the effectiveness of approaches.
Strict legal enforcement
And the award for the strictest law for copyright infringement goes to: Japan. The sole ratifier of the controversial ACTA treaty, Japanese law threatens infringers with throttled internet speeds, a 2 million Yen fine and up to 2 years in prison for downloading, or 10 years for uploading. In practice, jail time has rarely been awarded for downloading only, but many torrent services auto-seed, i.e. upload by default. It should be noted that VPNs are not currently illegal in Japan, and many websites advise torrenters to use VPNs in order to bypass copyright laws. VPNs are used to change users’ geolocation, and because of this it is impossible to ascertain how many users may be circumventing laws through this means.
Germany is another country with very strict anti-piracy laws, at least for torrenting. Torrenters are often hit with fines between €300 - €1000 for a single movie. However, trends show that where torrenting flounders, streaming thrives. This is evidential in Germany, where popular streaming site Movie4k claims 59.7% of its visitors.
Education and notices of infringement
A medium-strict approach to enforcing copyright law tends toward monitoring of P2P networks, pressure on ISPs to block sites and warnings sent to infringers. In the UK, sites like The Pirate Bay have already been blocked by the 5 biggest ISPs following a 2012 court case, and there are anti-piracy groups like FACT, who have worked to prosecute offenders. There are also government education programmes like the Creative Content UK (CCUK), which this year launched torrenting alert letters in ‘Get it Right’ campaign, although a study found that of UK broadband users 72% believe that the warnings will fail, as there is still no real penalty.
The US launched Six Strikes program in 2011, which pledged to, following notices, implement penalties like throttling internet speeds temporarily. However, its bluff was called: after six strikes, no further penalty was delivered, and so pirates continued to pirate and the program was ultimately dropped in January. But piracy in the US is increasing, and Hollywood is taking notice. An advertising group, supported by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), aims to end advertising on piracy apps. The MPAA has made other significant efforts, advocating for controversial SOPA and PIPA bills, and most recently supporting global coalition ACE which sees rivals like Netflix and Disney uniting against piracy.
Is piracy legal in some countries?
In some countries, downloading of copyrighted works is allowed for personal use. This includes Switzerland, where laws benefit and protect torrenters, prohibiting third parties from monitoring peer-to-peer networks. It is, however, illegal to upload a file for torrenting.
In the Netherlands, where piracy is rampant, copyright law and enforcement is similarly lax - however this is changing of late. Anti-piracy group BREIN is beginning to make waves, famously taking one piracy box seller to the European Court of Justice. In another case between BREIN and internet service providers Ziggo and XS4ALL, The European Court of Justice ruled that the ISPs must block The Pirate Bay, suggesting that other sites previously found not to be liable for the content they index - like Google, for example - may be at risk.
Spanish copyright law takes into account any intent to profit from torrenting or otherwise infringing on copyright. Spain has the fifth-highest rate of piracy worldwide, with almost a quarter of internet users visiting piracy sites.
Countries like Canada, Brazil and India have ultra-lax copyright laws and/or enforcement, and have been placed on the US International Trade Administration’s (ITA) watch list for poor IP enforcement. India in particular has a huge problem with digital piracy, with its piracy worth 35 percent more than its films. Canada, however, “does not recognise” a piracy problem, pointing to researcher bias in the ITA which they argue relies “on allegations from US industry stakeholders”.
Piracy in Europe
Although tight copyright law and enforcement techniques clearly has some effect, the conclusion we can thus draw is that there are enough circumvention techniques that pirates are continuing to pirate, no matter how a country may be handling their anti-piracy law. Piracy in Japan may be difficult to trace, but a quick internet search is enough to know that it certainly goes on. And Europe has the biggest problem with piracy worldwide, despite the best efforts of many European governments. Significant changes to the EU copyright law are currently being voted on, although the proposed changes have met much controversy. This highlights the tricky problem of combatting piracy today without breaching privacy or 'censoring the internet', because just as Google can link to illegal sites without risking liability, sites that it links to are frequently indexers of video hosters akin to Youtube and therefore similarly immune as intermediaries - but any efforts to change this have been fiercely opposed.
Many EU countries are making efforts to educate younger generations on the threat that digital piracy can pose to innovation and creativity, recommending legal ways to consume on-demand content, but will this be enough to stop a new generation from taking advantage of no-risk, free, on-demand content? It seems likely that until legislation is drawn up that can reflect the changing relationship creative works must have with the internet, whilst benefitting creators and users alike, a stop-gap is needed to recover IP from instances of infringement.