These are valid complaints, but Congress isn't likely to address them any time soon because there's no consensus among copyright holders and tech companies on how to rewrite the law. The only help from Washington at the moment is a new effort led by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to broker a deal between the tech and copyright industries on voluntary measures to reduce piracy. Although it won't be easy for them to agree, there are steps both sides could take to make the existing system work better.
In exchange for immunity against lawsuits, the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires Internet sites and services to take down files or links that copyright holders tell them were uploaded without permission. For example, if someone records the last five minutes of an
The courts have consistently ruled, however, that online companies have no duty to prevent pirated works from being uploaded or to monitor their sites for infringements. Instead, it's up to copyright holders to find infringing files and ask that they be removed, one file or link at a time — even if there are multiple copies on the same site. And if the work is uploaded again, the site doesn't have to remove it until the copyright holder sends another takedown request. Those limits have frustrated entertainment companies and publishers that are struggling to remove the huge quantity of bootlegged files available online. A single music site, for example, might offer access to multiple copies of thousands of pirated songs, all of which can be easily found through
It's appropriate that content owners bear the responsibility for enforcing their copyrights; after all, they're the only ones who know for sure whether an upload was authorized. But the notice-and-takedown system isn't much help against foreign sites that ignore takedown notices or neuter them by rapidly re-posting pirated files. One potential answer is for search services (e.g., Google) and copyright owners to find a way to allow the rapid removal of an extremely large number of links to sites that are offshore piracy hotbeds, cutting off much of their traffic. The challenge is to ramp up the takedowns without overwhelming sites with notices or removing links that aren't infringing. Some copyright holders have generated blizzards of takedown notices with bots that can't distinguish between fair uses and illegal copies. But this concern is less relevant when the targets are foreign sites designed to profit from bootlegged goods, and both challenges lend themselves to technical solutions. For example, a system that targets only full-length songs, books and movies is far less likely to remove legitimate files, such as online reviews that include samples of a work.