In the first part of this post, I discussed the history of software piracy, its accelerated growth and some of the legislative efforts against it, such as the DMCA and PRO-IP acts. These may be two of the most prominent initiatives in the battle against software piracy, but there are other efforts worth mentioning – both legislative and commercial, with household names such as Google and PayPal being very active examples of the latter.
The Six Strikes initiative (or Copyright Alert System) is the result of a coalition between the five major US ISPs, the MPAA and RIAA to track online pirates and create a piracy warning system. The formed group, known as the Center for Copyright Information (CCI), intends to thwart illegal downloading by educating internet users, whose activity is detected as infringing copyrights, about the consequences of piracy. This will be done via a series of notifications about the infringing behavior, redirecting users to dedicated landing pages. If education fails, the ISP will be required to implement penalties, such as bandwidth throttling and disconnection of the user from the service. Although this initiative is centered on music and video piracy, it can evolve to cover other pirated materials such as software applications.
The payment services of PayPal are extremely popular among e-commerce vendors – including many that sell pirated materials. In an effort to prevent illegal activity which depends on payment via PayPal, the company relentlessly terminates merchant accounts of infringing websites. Last year it joined forces with the IFPI (International Federation of the Phonographic Industry) and the London police to cut off account of illegal online music services, most of which operated from eastern Europe. More recent efforts include the banning of cyberlocker sites MediaFire, Putlocker and DepositFiles, as well as enforcing new terms of service for file-sharing and newsgroup services, which now require them to implement and follow several piracy monitoring and prevention procedures that PayPal laid out. Non-complying services are forced to find alternative payment solutions.
PayPal seems to pay close attention to the activity of other piracy supporting services, such as private VPNs. Such services are can be used to circumvent piracy tracking services (including the aforementioned Six Strikes initiative). Earlier this year PayPal banned TorGuard VPN service, only to re-instate the account later on. No explanation was given for the sudden change of heart, but it would be surprising if these services will be left untouched for long.
The torrent tracking site thepiratebay.se (commonly abbreviated as TPB) has been a popular junction for pirated software and media for the last several years, so much that it had become a primary target for rights holders. Attempts to lessen its impact range from a long trial against its founders, through several European countries instructing ISPs to block its IP address, to Google blacklisting the site from auto-complete and instant search results. So far, the site continues to operate with impunity, and it seems that these efforts have hardly made a dent in its popularity.
The limited success against TPB is of course not a singular example. It seems that for every piracy website or file sharing tool which is limited or shut down by the law, several others keep popping up. One take-away from this is that although legal battle against copyright infringers is important, it far from guarantees success. Rights holder must mitigate the impact of piracy in every legitimate way that’s available to them – both through law enforcement and integration of hardware- and software-based copy protection enforcement (Digital Rights Management), with Cloud-based licensing being the latest frontier.
It may be too early to proclaim that “cloud computing makes software piracy obsolete”, as the writer of this post affirms, but this current trend already makes software rights abuse more difficult, and legitimate use easier and more affordable.