Peer Group / Best Practices Regulation as Potential Solution to Online Piracy

by Mike Wendy on February 9, 2012

While attending a major Washington Internet policy conference last month, it became clear to me that both sides of the online piracy debate were talking past each other.  I know that this was just before the bills SOPA / PIPA blew up, and that both sides were playing hard to keep their positions on the Hill viable.  Still, the “conversation” seemed stuck in a “the bills must pass-or-the bills-must fail” binary choice to address (or not) the matter at hand.

U.S. Chamber's (pro-SOPA) Steve Tepp and Techdirt's (anti-SOPA) Mike Masnick talking past each other at last month's "State of the Net" conference panel on piracy

Though self-regulation as a possible alternative to legislation saw some brief discussion, plainly, using it as the primary tool to deal with piracy seemed untenable, unworkable, or unrealistic.  A no-go to both sides.

I have written on this previously, and have suggested using industry best practices and peer groups – such as the BITAG model – to see if piracy can be tackled without needing legislation.  The Internet and its amazing growth were built on this voluntary, non-governmental type of regulation.

Why should the Internet deal any differently with piracy?  The answer is – it shouldn’t.

Well, nearly three weeks after the SOPA / PIPA defeats happened, it seems others heavily invested in the debate might be moving in this direction, too.  Yesterday, in a New York Times column, RIAA’s CEO Cary Sherman made this provocative, yet somewhat surprising (given how much RIAA wanted SOPA / PIPA to pass) challenge:

Perhaps this is naïve, but I’d like to believe that the companies that opposed SOPA and PIPA will now feel some responsibility to help come up with constructive alternatives. Virtually every opponent acknowledged that the problem of counterfeiting and piracy is real and damaging. It is no longer acceptable just to say no. The diversionary bill that they drafted, the OPEN Act, would do little to stop the illegal behavior and would not establish a workable framework, standards or remedies.

It has become clear that, at this point, neither SOPA, PIPA nor OPEN is a viable answer. We need to take a step back to seek fresh ideas and new approaches. The “Copyright Alert” program, a voluntary effort by the entertainment industries and leading Internet service providers to notify users whose accounts are being used for wrongful downloading over peer-to-peer networks, shows that respectful fact-based conversations can lead to progress.

We all share the goal of a safe and legal Internet. We need reason, not rhetoric, in discussing how to achieve it.

I agree with Sherman.  Isn’t it time for the sides to sit down and see if this can be worked out?  Piracy is real.  It is a clear and present danger to the Internet’s growth.  It harms the entire ecosystem.

Can Internet brainiac, Dr. Stephen Crocker (and others like him), fix piracy through self-regulation?

Delay no longer is an option.

The Internet was created and is managed by some of the smartest people in the entire world.  True brainiacs.  These same minds should be working in overdrive to defeat piracy in a manner that serves the core, the edge, the creator and the end-user.

It ain’t rocket science, guys.  It ain’t like putting colonies on the moon (sorry, Newt).

It’s about all sides coming to the table and using a model that we know works – ecosystem peer group guidance / self-regulation.  It is a self-healing model that has largely kept the U.S. government out of the Internet’s business.  Casting it aside is a fool’s errand.

Let’s all sit down and talk.  To, not past, each other.

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