US Trade Rep Calls Out Stream-Ripping, Countries Failing to Protect Intellectual Property in New Reports

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The 2018 Notorious Markets List and Special 301 report offer international insight into issues facing copyright and trademark enforcement.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released two reports on Thursday (April 25) regarding threats to American creators around the world. The 2018 Notorious Markets List highlights online and physical markets reported to engage in and facilitate copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting, and the Special 301 report -- developed through an interagency trade policy team -- focuses on trading partners that do not adequately support American's intellectual property (IP) rights. This is the first time the two reports have been released together.

The annual Notorious Markets List identifies 33 online markets and 25 physical markets that are reported to engage in and facilitate substantial copyright piracy and trademark counterfeiting. Among those are stream-ripping sites flvto.biz, 2conv.com and MP3juices.cc; MP3va.com, which looks like a legal music site but offers unauthorized downloads for unreasonably low prices and does not pay copyright holders; file sharing website rapidgator.net; BitTorrent sites rutracker.org and rarbg.to; and cyberlockers turbobit.net and uploaded.net. Russian social networking site vk.com is also listed for reportedly facilitating the distribution of copyright-infringing files, but is engaging in conversations with the music industry and -- after signing licensing deals with major labels in 2016 -- last year was a signatory to a landmark anti-piracy agreement with technology companies in Russia. 

The list also notes positive developments over the past year, including action against piracy services in Vietnam, Ukraine, Peru and Romania. Notably, action against YouTube-ripping sites has continued with sites such as pickvideo.net, videodownload.co and easyload.co reportedly having stopped promoting or allowing unauthorized audio ripping from music videos and legitimate streaming services.

Among those countries listed in the Special 301 report, India and Russia remain on the USTR's priority watch list. Meanwhile, Romania, Barbados, Bolivia, Jamaica, Mexico and Peru all remain on the watch list with concerns specific to music. 

Regarding India, the report outlines actions the country took to address IP challenges, but notes it still has major steps to take. The widespread granting of licenses under Chapter VI of the country's copyright act and "overly-broad" exemptions for certain uses are noted causes of concern about India's strength of copyright protection, with the report stating they have "complicated the functioning of the market for music licensing." 

Likewise, Romania, Jamaica, Mexico and Peru are applauded for taking steps in the right direction regarding IP protection, but still more can be done, says the report. Mexico is reportedly one of the top countries for online music piracy, and while the report notes it has not made any significant changes since last year to improve its IP protections, the country did agree to IP provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that will "substantially improve the IP environment in Mexico" when it is ratified and fully implemented. Still, precedent is not convincing that this will happen swiftly. The report states that despite ratifying the World Intellectual Property Organization Internet Treaties in 2002, Mexico has not enacted legislation to implement its full protective measures. 

Meanwhile, in Barbados, the refusal of local television and radio broadcasters and cable and satellite operators to pay for public performances of music is of continuing concern, along with reports that judgements and other successful civil litigation outcomes for rights holders have gone unenforced or without the intended effect. "The United States urges Barbados to take all administrative actions necessary, without undue delay, to ensure that all composers and songwriters receive the royalties they are owed for the public performance of their musical works," states the report.

Following the USTR's release of the reports, Recording Industry Association of America chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier issued a statement praising United States trade representative Robert Lighthizer and his team "for shining a spotlight on two of the biggest threats to the American creative community -- stream-ripping and proxy services that allow criminals to hide on the dark web."

Glazier continued, citing a report from research firm MusicWatch that found while other forms of online theft have decreased, there has been a 50% increase in the number of stream-rippers in the U.S. over a two-year period. He said, "We are especially gratified that a specific focus of the reports is the substantial harm caused by stream-ripping piracy, labeling it as a 'dominant method of music piracy causing substantial economic harm to music creators undermining legitimate online services.' Stream-ripping services rip off creators by circumventing YouTube's and other services' systems."

Glazier specifically praised the Notorious Markets report for highlighting the role of 'reverse proxy services' that allow websites to evade law enforcement and rights holders by hiding their identities and said, "Companies that provide these services to criminals turn a blind eye to nefarious activity for profit." By including these services in the report, Glazier noted, it sends a "strong signal" to otherwise legitimate platforms -- calling out CloudFlare by name -- "to be more responsible players and work with creators to ensure that their services are not being used for illegal purposes."

"These reports commit to promoting copyright protection and enforcement around the world, including the rejection of loopholes that diminish protections such as flawed safe harbors and over-broad exceptions," Glazier concluded. "We look forward to continuing to work with Ambassador Lighthizer and his team to help secure an environment where American creativity can thrive and prosper."

Read both reports here