A game of cat and mouse

Rights holders that want to protect their valuable intellectual property have to be willing to change

Not only is online infringement a persistent problem, it’s also changing. It wasn’t that long ago that peer-to-peer file sharing was bamboozling lawyers with its flightiness. Fast-forward a decade and new technologies are offering novel means of infringement, leaving peer-to-peer file sharing in the dust and demanding innovation of those charged to protect intellectual property.

Innovation, of course, isn’t always possible. The controversial six-strike Copyright Alert System in the US was abandoned in January, largely because its backers saw no way of adapting it to fight new ways of copyright infringement.

Although no official reason was given for the discontinuation of the Copyright Alert System, it is believed that the system was only able to target piracy on peer-to-peer networks. Streaming websites, for example, were thought to have been beyond its capabilities.

If rights owners and their partners want to fight online infringement effectively and efficiently, they’re going to have change.

Associations and trade groups have led the charge, establishing new tools dedicated to helping rights holders to enforce their rights and remove infringing content and products from the internet.

One such organisation, the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT), has been a fixture of anti-piracy since 1983. First established to combat pirated cassettes and VHS tapes, in the age of globalisation, FACT has encouraged a focus on adapting to the modern environment and establishing new technology.

Alice Skeats, director of communications at FACT, believes that “technology, and more importantly, keeping at the forefront of technology, is vital for online content protection”.

Skeats says: “Whether it’s dedicated websites, social media or online marketplaces the unlicensed uploading and sharing of any copyrighted content online, be it film, TV, sport, music or games, can have detrimental effects for every individual who has worked on that creative piece.”

“Once content leaks online you can never erase all traces and it then has the potential to go viral and be shared via thousands of websites and platforms.”

As for FACT’s own technology, Skeats says that the organisation has continued to develop its method and techniques as the piracy landscape has evolved. Now, FACT employs a variety of techniques to combat online piracy. The organisation has developed its own bespoke scanning system, which Skeats says “scours the internet and detects infringing content found across the internet, including cyberlockers, linking sites, torrent sites and peer-to-peer networks”.

But she says that the individuals and groups involved in this type of criminal activity often move just as quickly as technology.“There is always more to be done,” Skeats says.

Other sectors have also become hotbeds of infringement and providers such as brand protection specialist Incopro have emerged to tackle the problem.

Helen Saunders, head of intelligence and operations at Incopro, says that while Incopro monitors across six key areas of the internet, including websites, marketplaces, app sources and paid search, 3D printing is an emerging focus.

She says that people haven’t really “got to grips with the threat of 3D printing. For example, designers now design jewellery as a CAD file and print it from a 3D printer. But that power could end up in the hands of a counterfeiter, who could print a branded piece of jewellery in metal.”

These newer forms of infringement can be harder for brands to identify than a song or a video, and the emergence of new technologies such as 3D printing have forced brand protectors into more niche methods of combat.

“Incopro’s technology helps us mainly via data collection,” Saunders says. “The data goes into a central ‘brain’, within which we have a number of algorithms. One of the key ones is our risk algorithm, which can be tuned for specific problems of that brand. For example, you could have a product that, when it’s shipped from a genuine source, always ships with a particular accessory—but the counterfeit item is advertised without the accessory. Tracking that down is as simple as putting in an algorithm that recognises that difference, and flags that product as a potential counterfeit.”

“Tracking that down is as simple as putting in an algorithm that recognises that difference, and flags that product as a potential counterfeit.”

Saunders says Incopro also identifies infringers across multiple websites and locations on the internet, using a “clustering algorithm”. “We appreciate that infringers operate across a number of websites and places on the internet,” she reasons, “so clustering aims to pull all those places together automatically, so I can see that this person has a domain, but also has a social media profile and a seller profile on a marketplace platform.”

“We’re then able to look at these connections, and instead of playing whack-a-mole, which is basically what a notice-and-takedown service can be, we actually start to look at it in a much more intelligent way.”

“Leveraging this data allows us to cripple counterfeiters more easily,” she says.

Ultimately, online enforcement is a “game of cat and mouse”, concludes Saunders, where adaptation is not a preference, but a necessity.
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