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W&L Professor on Internet Piracy, Protest (Audio)

The Internet is being disrupted today as several of the major websites, including Wikipedia and BoingBoing, have essentially gone on strike to protest anti-piracy legislation that Congress is considering. Other sites, like Google, are making their protest known by graphically blacking out the name.

Washington and Lee University business administration professor David Touve, who created the digital music website Noisebox in 1998, studies Internet piracy in the music industry.


At issue, Touve said, is whether or not the piracy problem on the Internet is so significant  a problem and one that cannot be addressed by the current laws that it is necessary to enact much stronger legislation. Under the proposed legislation, he explained, certain domain names could be made inaccessible, or sites like Wikipedia or Google would be obligated to remove links to places where piracy might be occurring. Yet, new pirate sites could just reappear, as they do now, at new domains.

“On the one hand, you have what is largely pitched as a Hollywood problem of piracy,” said Touve. “That is the idea that large-scale sharing of copyrighted materials is costing the industry billions of dollars. While on the other hand, you have parties developing new and interesting web services and who are content operating under the current Digital Millennium Copyright Act.”

The challenge of the debate, Touve said, is finding an appropriate balance between copyright and commerce.

“Do we lose some of the benefits from a search engine if it must be constantly responding to requests to have links taken down, or disable links to an entire domain?” Touve said. “Or, more importantly, do we lose some of the benefits of the small entities that can start up at the fuzzy domains of this infringement challenge, but are shut down right away before we can figure out whether or not this is truly an infringement rather than a novel use or a new market?”

The disappointment for Touve is that both parties tend to retreat to their respective corners and continue a debate of generalities and name-calling, “when the bigger question is where is the balance and what is the best response, technically and legally, to the fact that piracy will always exist,” he said. “Does shutting down a domain, without clear due process pathways, solve the problem without having significant negative impact on innovation, and, if not, where is that middle ground?”

Touve said that sites like Wikipedia or Twitter would see major impacts to their ability to grow if they must respond to thousands and thousands of orders to take down links that users submit.

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