Piracy and Digital Rights Management: 10 Ways to Combat Online Piracy
Piracy—the illegal downloading and/or distribution of copyrighted works, not swashbuckling on the high seas—is a sticky wicket indeed. With the advent of the Internet and other digital technologies, online piracy has grown into a significant concern for all types of copyright owners, including publishers. There can be no doubt that content piracy costs publishers and other rights holders large amounts of revenue. But exactly how much revenue is being lost is a point of contention. It can be challenging to determine how much publishers should focus on the piracy of their publications and articles and whether, if they go too far trying to protect themselves, they run the risk of alienating some of their best customers.
Unfortunately there is no "silver bullet" solution to this problem. While no publisher can fully stop online piracy, there are certain steps that can, at the very least, reduce the harm caused by piracy. Below are 10 quick and easy steps that any publisher can take to address the problem.
1. Register Your Copyrighted Work in a Timely Manner
Although you do not need to register your work with the Copyright Office for the work to be protected by copyright law, there are many benefits to doing so. Registration establishes a public record that the owner claims a copyright interest. In addition, registering the work within the first three months of publication or prior to an infringement enables you to obtain your attorney fees and "statutory" damages of up to $30,000. Since you can't sue an infringer in federal court without first registering the work with the Copyright Office, you might as well get it done at the outset. The application process is inexpensive and easy.
2. Place Copyright Notices On Your Publications
As is the case with copyright registration, placing a copyright notice on your work is not necessary. However, including a copyright notice on your works is quite easy to do and provides several benefits, such as alerting the world that a copyright is claimed in a work and you are the owner. Placing a proper copyright notice on your work also prevents pirates from claiming to be innocent infringers, which will result in a higher damage award should you decide to sue the pirate.
3. Join Forces With Other Publishers
Pirates don't discriminate. If they are pirating your publications you can be sure they are pirating the publications of others as well. It can be beneficial to get together with like-minded publishers either through a trade association such as SIIA, or on your own, to share information about websites and other protocols that present the biggest piracy problems, and to share tips on what strategies and solutions have worked best.
4. Proactively Monitor The Internet
Even if you don't take any action, it's helpful to know whether and how others are making pirated copies of your publications available online. Using an online monitoring service like MarkMonitor or Attributor can be useful to collect intelligence about the extent of your piracy problem. If you can't or don't want to employ a monitoring service, you can also obtain valuable information by simply having one of your employees use a search engine to scour the Internet for your products to see where they pop up and what people are doing with them—illegally or otherwise.
5. Develop An Effective Enforcement Strategy
If you're like most publishers, you're likely to find that there is more piracy occurring than you have the ability to address. This is where having an effective enforcement strategy comes into play. It's important to develop an enforcement strategy that prioritizes your company's biggest problems. For example, you may want to prioritize taking enforcement action against piracy on the more popular websites, in countries with better copyright laws and enforcement records and/or piracy taking place on sites where the pirated copies are being sold (as opposed to those where they are being made available for free).
6. Develop A Working Relationship With Government Agencies And Intermediaries
Even the most aggressive copyright owners need help enforcing their rights. Because pirates are continuously devising new ways to engage in piracy and to avoid detection, it is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible, for publishers to combat this piracy alone. The best way to effectively address online piracy problems is through the cooperation of multiple stakeholders, including the Federal, state and local government agencies that are responsible for enforcement. It is likewise important to have contacts at the various payment processors (e.g., PayPal, Visa), ecommerce sites (e.g., Amazon, eBay, Craigslist), search engines and other intermediaries who can help you combat the piracy when their services are involved. This is especially true when piracy is taking place abroad in countries where civil and criminal actions are likely to be ineffective.
7. Understand The Limits Of Technological Solutions
Technological protections (such as DRM and watermarking) can be used to prevent some piracy, but overreliance on such technologies can be costly and inconvenient for your legitimate customers. Loading up your publications with too much DRM can have the unintended consequence of pushing your customers toward other legal or illegal alternatives. Furthermore, as we all know, no technological solution is 100 percent effective and any technology can and will be hacked. For these reasons, technology is only a partial solution and should be used primarily as a means of keeping honest people honest.
8. Focus Your Enforcement Efforts On The Ringleader
Take a page from the DEA: When you examine the piracy of your products, don't just stop with the pirate. Do your due diligence and find out where the pirate obtained the pirated products and then, to the extent possible, follow this lead all the way up the supply chain. What you may find is that many different sellers are obtaining their inventory from one source. Removing the initial supplier may be a better use of limited resources than going after all the "low-hanging" sellers.
9. Consider Alternative Business Models
Are the people who are pirating your publications potential customers who are engaging in piracy because your publications are not accessible to them in a way or at a price point that they desire? Sometimes the best solution is not simply to pursue the bad actors or to strengthen your DRM protection but rather to give potential customers an alternative way to access and use your publications that will make piracy a less attractive option.
10. Tighten Up Your Licenses And Contracts
The value of your copyrights is closely connected to the rights you're licensing. You should audit all license agreements under which you allow others to use or distribute your publications to ensure the terms and conditions of use are sufficiently clear and that they protect your company against piracy and other illegal acts. BB
Keith Kupferschmid is SVP, Intellectual Property and General Counsel for the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA). For more information on how to combat piracy, contact SIIA's Anti-Piracy Department at 202-289-7442 or firstname.lastname@example.org.