SIIA Takes Initiative in Content Piracy Battle

To thwart shoplifters, retail stores electronically tag merchandise with sensors that can trip invisible alarms on the way out the door. To thwart content thieves, the Software Information Industry Association (SIIA) is launching a similar initiative: the Corporate Content Anti-Piracy Policy (CCAP). CCAP will tag digital print content so that illegal use can be detected. Its two-pronged attack on copyright violations will use both prosecution and education to curb the illegal use of print materials via the web.

The SIIA teamed with iCopyright to create digital tags that are embedded in members' online content. The tag is hidden to users, but spiders can read the HTML address, which links to information about the content's owner, copyright restrictions, whether usage permission has been granted, and a link to the original source. The SIIA employs the tags when determining if content is being used within its copyright.

The SIIA has been pursuing software pirates for nearly 20 years, and according to Keith Kupferschmid, VP of intellectual property, policy, and enforcement at the SIIA, "Our members began urging the SIIA to implement a program similar to our software program that would entail SIIA pursuing organizations for copying and distributing content without permission."

Kupferschmid says that the content industry's wake-up call came with the court case Legg Mason v. Lowry's Reports. Legg Mason, a global assets management giant, subscribed to Lowry's financial industry analysis newsletter—but only paid for one copy and then distributed the contents among all of its brokers via fax and the Legg Mason employee site since at least 1988. Despite a warning letter from Lowry's, Legg Mason persisted in distributing the newsletter's content until 2003, when a federal jury found that Legg Mason's use constituted breach of contract and copyright violation. Lowry's was awarded a significant $20 million in damages.

In its defense, Legg Mason argued that its lower-level employees were unaware that distributing the information was a crime. Indeed, says Chuck Richard, an analyst at Outsell, Inc. and member of SIIA's Content Division Board of Directors, "It can be as simple as forwarding a copyrighted article to a coworker." A close inspection of the content copyrights of well known web info distributors such as The New York Times and the Associated Press shows that usage is largely limited to one digital and one print copy, strictly for personal use. So when you're distributing it to five or ten people, you're breaking the law. The majority of the SIIA's efforts will be directed at mid- to high-level offenders, but even minor piracy could lead to a rebuke from the SIIA.

For the same reason that content pirates themselves are often unintentional thieves, most online publishers have been, in the past, lax about enforcing their claims over copyrighted content. Richard emphasizes that part of the educational approach will be aimed at informing companies of the rights they have over their own content and how to digitally monitor it. "Users and usage have outpaced monetizing content and updating the rules for content," he says. "In the beginning, publishers thought there was more value in getting their content out there and seen. Now, it's time to tighten the reins."

The CCAP gives online publishers a helping hand in the fight against content piracy by offering the SIIA's vast resources to find, track, and prosecute violators. Critics have voiced concerns over the CCAP's effect on the free flow of information, but Kupferschmid feels that it will only help: "By addressing these cases of piracy at the outset, we hope to create and encourage an environment that is conducive to the flow of information, not stifling." The biggest push over the next few months will be to publicize the program and make both users and creators aware of the new rules, since, according to both Richard and Kupferschmid, ignorance might be the root cause of most content piracy. So from now on, before you forward—well, consider yourself forewarned.