June 8, 2011 10:49 pm

Online storage seen as curbing piracy

New online media storage systems such as Apple’s iCloud might help combat the rampant piracy and counterfeiting that have eroded earnings for music, film and television groups, the US intellectual property enforcement co-ordinator said on Wednesday.

“Music locker services are being done to respond to legitimate consumer preferences, not being built to combat piracy,” said Victoria Espinel, the Obama administration’s copyright tsar. “But it’s certainly possible that they can be constructed in a way that will reduce piracy because they offer consumers capacity and flexibility that make them compelling alternatives.”

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Apple introduced its iCloud storage system on Monday. It follows similar efforts from Amazon, Google and a coalition of TV networks to create a new breed of cloud services that allow consumers to use the web to access media that they own but do not store on local devices.

But Ms Espinel warned that the services must be especially secure at a time when companies and governments were increasingly under attack from hackers.

“In order to have legal alternatives that are compelling they need to be safe and secure.

“It’s enormously important that consumers and the public have confidence in the internet, have confidence that they will retain their information.”

Sony’s Qriocity entertainment service has been among the products hit by a wave of hacking attacks that have disrupted the Japanese electronics and media group in recent months. Sony was forced to take down several of its services and websites after the attacks, which resulted in the loss of more 100m consumer records.

Ms Espinel told the World Copyright Summit in Brussels such services could be more effective than government regulation. “The US government doesn’t need to pick winners and losers and the last thing we should think about doing is messing up the internet with inappropriate regulation,” she said.

If it was “possible to construct it so that it cannot be compromised, it may have the effect of reducing piracy by giving value to consumers – the ability to own forever and access almost anywhere – that cannot be obtained with illegal copies”, she said.

Extending cloud-based services into emerging markets will be a challenge, however. Piracy makes up 81 per cent of the film market and 58 per cent of the music market in Russia, for example, according to the independent international Social Science Research Council.

“What we do in the US serves as a good example for other governments,” Ms Espinel said. “If the US and other governments are sending a clear signal that piracy and counterfeiting is not acceptable, that will carry.”

She added that the Obama administration shared the goals of a coalition of industry executives and politicians, which had proposed legislation to combat “rogue websites” that facilitate online piracy, especially in emerging markets. “Foreign based websites are a particular concern to us,” she said.

While the administration did not yet have an official position on the Protect IP act, Ms Espinel said it was important to dissuade sites from facilitating piracy by working with advertising networks, payment providers and internet service providers to starve them of advertising dollars and traffic.

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