Lawmakers Introduce Measure Holding Tech Companies Liable for Online Content Piracy

U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) have introduced the SMART Copyright Act of 2022, bipartisan legislation that would hold tech accountable by developing widely available measures to combat copyright theft of Hollywood movies, music, podcasts, books and video games.

The proposed law would be an enhancement to the existing Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the 25-year-old landmark bill protecting copyright laws in the internet age, by holding tech companies responsible for third-party content theft.

That’s because after the DMCA was approved, online service providers struck a deal with Congress so they wouldn’t have to pay for copyright theft facilitated by their systems if they worked with copyright owners to create effective standardized technical measures (STM) to identify and protect against distribution of stolen content.

In enacting this grand bargain, Congress envisioned this safe harbor immunity would act as an incentive for platforms and rights holders to collaborate on developing effective measures to combat copyright theft, lower transaction costs, accelerate information sharing, and create a healthy internet for all parties.

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That hasn’t happened, according to Tillis.

“In the fight to combat copyright theft, there is currently no consensus-based standard technical measures and that needs to be addressed,” the lawmaker said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation … will provide widely available piracy-fighting measures and create a trusted and workable internet for our creative communities.”

Indeed, rather than incentivizing collaboration, the current law actually inhibits it because service providers cannot risk losing their valuable safe harbors if a STM is created. In addition, the current statute provides only one path to establish that a technological measure is a consensus-based STM that must be available to all.

As a result, according to the lawmakers, no STMs have been identified since the law took effect. The issue isn’t whether technical measures to combat rampant copyright infringement exist — plenty do — but rather how to encourage service providers to adopt technical measures to combat stealing and facilitate sharing of critical copyright data.

“The internet has significantly changed, and with it so has the world of copyright,” said Leahy. “The technology exists to protect against this theft; we just need online platforms to use the technology.”

The SMART Copyright Act of 2022 aims to create flexibility so that more existing measures could be eligible for STMs, and it addresses the incentive issue by authorizing the Librarian of Congress to designate through an open, public rulemaking process technical measures identified by stakeholders that certain service providers must accommodate and not interfere with.

“I’m working hard to make sure our artists get paid, and we can enjoy legal access to their wonderful creations,” Leahy said. “I look forward to working with all realms of the copyright community to address the problem of copyright theft.”

AT&T CEO: Congressional Concerns Over WarnerMedia Sale ‘Unfounded’

On the heels of concerns from some Democrat lawmakers regarding AT&T’s $43 billion minority stake asset sale of WarnerMedia to Discovery, the telecom’s CEO said the issues presented by lawmakers are “unfounded,” but expected for a mega merger that includes Warner Bros., HBO and Turner and the parent of HGTV and other media brands.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Rep. David Cicilline (RI), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA) and 29 other Congressional members sent a letter to the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the DOJ to examine whether the merger would reduce diverse content in a more consolidated and less competitive market.

“I believe the context of our discussion with regulators up to this point has centered around those [diversity] issues, and we feel very good about the data we put on the table that have, it’s clearly indicated that there’s nothing unusual about this transaction,” Stankey told the UBS Global TMT Virtual Conference on Dec. 6.

Castro contends there remains a lack of diversity of people of color in media. The lawmaker cited a 2021 analysis by the Latino Donor Collaborative found that Latinos account for less than 3% of TV show leads, showrunners and directors.

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“Latinos are nearly 20% of the U.S. population, one-in-five Americans, but we’re almost invisible on-screen and behind the camera,” Castro wrote in the letter.

Stankey said issues involving minority representation may have been relative to past media mergers, but not so today.

“I would also tell you that those [Congressional] letters … are not very strong in the foundation of their concerns, nor do I have concerns about what they’re articulating in terms of our ability to navigate through that,” Stankey said.

U.S. Congress Democrats Seek Further Scrutiny on WarnerMedia Sale to Discovery

More than 30 democratic members of Congress (from both the House and Senate) have sent a joint letter to the Justice Department seeking further scrutiny in AT&T’s planned $43 billion minority stake sale to Discovery Inc. Under terms of the sale, Discovery would assume operational control of WarnerMedia, which has assets that include Warner Bros. Pictures, HBO and Turner.

Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX), Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA), Congressman David Cicilline (RI), chair of the antitrust subcommittee, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA), chair of the Congressional progressive caucus, and 29 other Congressional members sent the letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Kanter urging the DOJ to investigate for possible violations of antitrust laws.

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In addition, the members are requesting Garland examine whether the proposed merger will reduce diverse content in a more consolidated and less competitive market.

“For far too long, Hollywood studios have excluded Latinos from opportunities in the industry, perpetuating dangerous stereotypes and inaccurate portrayals,” Castro said in a statement. “Latinos are nearly 20% of the U.S. population, one-in-five Americans, but we’re almost invisible on-screen and behind the camera. I’m deeply concerned that the proposed merger between Discovery and WarnerMedia will lead to concentrated exclusion, harming consumers and workers — especially Latinos who are already the most underrepresented group.”

“We must stop harmful mergers, and the Department of Justice should thoroughly investigate this proposed merger to ensure diverse content and workers are protected,” said Warren, a longtime critic of the U.S. corporate business culture.

AT&T, which acquired the former Time Warner for $85 billion, soon thereafter began looking for ways to reduce its debt load while maintaining ownership in select assets (WarnerMedia and DirecTV). The telecom’s CFO Pascal Desroches in September said he still expects the deal to close in the first half of 2022.

Congress Seeks Greater Copyright Protection for YouTube Videos

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has sent a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking the tech giant to expand copyright infringement protections to a greater number of content creators.

The letter, spearheaded by Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), co-chairs on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, addresses “YouTube Content ID,” Google’s copyright infringement software aimed at preventing illegal uploading of movies, music and other copyrighted content on YouTube.

Other signees of the Sept. 4 inquiry include Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) ranking member of the committee, as well as Democratic ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

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Launched in 2007, Content ID informs content holders when their copyright protected material is uploaded to YouTube. Content holders are then given the ability to block access to the video or recoup any ad revenue generated by the infringed content.

Specifically, the letter questions the parameters of Content ID and why it isn’t applied to smaller content holders.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), whose constituents include music artists in Nashville, said limiting the use of Content ID to larger players such as movie studios and record labels “hinders copyright holders with smaller catalogues from reaping the benefits of its actions.”

“Talented creators, including Nashville’s song-writing community, are disproportionately at risk of infringement,” Blackburn wrote in the letter.

While anyone can bow video content on YouTube, Google doesn’t begin to monetize content without a minimum number of users, or “subscribers” who click to join the channel.

The letter alleges that certain copyright holders have been denied access to Content ID and at a “significant disadvantage” to prevent the repeated uploading of content previously identified as infringing.

“They are left with the choice of spending hours each week seeking out and sending notices about the same copyrighted works, or allowing their intellectual property to be misappropriated,” read the letter.

Google, per its website, says Content ID is applied to content holders with “a substantial body of original material that is frequently uploaded.”

Congress contends copyright industries in the United States provide more than 5.7 million jobs and generate $1.3 trillion toward the country’s gross domestic product, accounting for 6.85% of the U.S. economy.

“Does Google plan to provide access to Content ID to a larger number of rights holders? If so, when? If not, what challenges prevent you from doing so?” read the letter.

The lawmakers asked Pichai to respond by Oct. 31, with a planned roundtable with Google representatives to address the issues to occur before the end of the year.