Your iPod, Please

Can entertainment piracy be stopped at the border?

Authors of a discussion paper put together by G8 member nations seems to suggest just that, painting a future when border agents regularly search iPods, iPhones and laptops for infringing material.

Titled "Discussion Paper on a Possible Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement," the document, which was recently leaked online by Sunshine Media through its whistleblower Web site, is expected to be tabled in a July meeting of G8 nations in Tokyo, according to Canwest News Service.

To be sure, the paper mentions more methods than customs agents searching iPods. The document also calls for international cooperation among nations, including sharing resources and information.

But it was the "Border Measures" part of the document suggesting "ex officio authority for customs authorities to suspend import, export and trans-shipment of suspected IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] infringing goods" that caught the media’s attention and prompted headlines warning of border iPod seizures.

"Music and film industry to get police force," read the headline in the online version of Britain’s Inquirer; "Government wants your laptop," warned Canada’s The Province; and MacWorld U.K. reported, "Copyright police threaten Mac, iPod."

Aside from customs agents searching iPods and computers, which many countries’ border guards already do while checking for child pornography, the document also calls for greater cooperation from Internet service providers, promising liability safeguards for ISPs in exchange for cooperation.

Calling on ISPs to join in on the fight against copyright piracy is nothing new. The recording industry has been calling for such action, claiming the service providers are getting rich at the record labels’ expense. ISPs, on the other hand, say they are merely providing Internet connections and cannot regulate the actions of their customers.

However, other provisions in the discussion paper suggest a more powerful "copyright police" with the power to conduct border searches, including seizure and destruction of illicit copies; authority to report information to intellectual property owners and to take action against suspected infringers without complaints from the property owners.

But it’s the iPod / laptop angle that’s got everybody stirred up. The idea that customs agents might be empowered to search such devices and determine whether the contents infringe on anyone’s copyright isn’t exactly heartwarming to the millions who transverse international boundaries on a regular basis. And you don’t have to own an MP3 player, a DVD player or a laptop to be alarmed. After all, do you want to be the person in line at customs who is standing behind the person whose devices are being searched?

"If Hollywood could order intellectual property laws for Christmas what would they look like? This is pretty close," Dave Fewer, staff counsel at the University of Ottawa’s Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, told Canwest News Service.


Copyright Pirate Facing Prison Time

Barry Gitarts has earned himself a dubious place in the annals of copyright enforcement history. The Brooklyn, N.Y., resident was convicted of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement in what the RIAA has called the first-ever federal trial for online criminal copyright piracy featuring primarily music.

It’s the conviction with conviction, with sentencing requirements calling for up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release. Oh, yeah, he also has to make full restitution, an amount that’s sure to reach astronomical heights if only because Gitarts was described by the Justice Department as being part of a group that distributed "hundreds of thousands of copies of pirated music, movies, software and video games."

Needless to say, Gitarts wasn’t just someone sitting at home monkeying around on peer-to-peer networks.

Instead, Gitarts was part of an Internet piracy group known as Apocalypse Production Crew (APC), which functioned as a "first-provider" or "release group" acquiring and then distributing copyrighted material to servers throughout the world.

Using the alias "Dextro," Gitarts paid for and administered a computer server located in Texas used by APC to distribute copyrighted material. The evidence showed that Gitarts received payment for his services from the leader of the APC.

The case is part of an ongoing federal crackdown against organized piracy groups. So far there have been 15 criminal convictions of APC members and 56 convictions in operation FastLink, which the DOJ describes as a "massive international enforcement action against organizations involved in the illegal distribution of copyrighted material."

Commenting on Gitarts’ conviction, U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg stated, "Music piracy is stealing and, unless you want to end up in a federal prison, don’t do it."


Viacom vs YouTube

You probably already know Viacom is suing YouTube for $1 billion dollars. But did you know the lawsuit against the video site threatens how everyone on the Internet exchanges ideas and information?

Or so says Google, which owns YouTube.

That was one of the claims company lawyers included in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan in response to Viacom’s lawsuit alleging the Internet has led to "an explosion of copyright infringement."

Viacom filed suit against YouTube and Google last year, claiming the video site infringed on Viacom copyrights for TV programming like Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" and "The Colbert Report." So far, the media giant has identified more than 150,000 unauthorized clips of its programming, including "SpongeBob SquarePants," "South Park" and "MTV Unplugged" episodes, saying that the infringing material had been viewed "an astounding 1.5 billion times."

Viacom also claims that Google and YouTube hasn’t done everything it could to prevent infringing material from appearing on YouTube.

Meanwhile, Google’s lawyers, in papers submitted to the judge on May 23rd, said YouTube "goes far beyond its legal obligations in assisting content owners to protect their works."

YouTube has always claimed freedom from liability under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which exempts providers from such lawsuits as long as they remove the infringing material upon notification by the content owners. But Viacom wasn’t buying that claim, and filed suit against both companies last year.

"To the contrary, the availability on the YouTube site of a vast library of the copyrighted works of plaintiffs and others is the cornerstone of the defendants’ business plan," Viacom said.


Everybody’s Talking

Want to know which bands and artists are the most talked-about on the Net? The BBC makes it easy with their recently debuted feature, Sound Index.

The BBC Sound Index crawls social networking sites MySpace and Bebo as well as Google Groups, iTunes and YouTube to determine who’s talking about who when it comes to music.

For instance, as of May 29th, Robbie Williams was No. 1 on the chart, while Usher occupied the No. 2 position and Coldplay held down the third-place slot.

The Sound Index updates every six hours, so your results may differ. Results are based on the number of mentions each band and artist receives, as well as song downloads and video streaming on the aforementioned sites.

Along with the Sound Index’s Top 1000 acts, users are invited to create charts based on their favorite artists and Web sites.

The BBC Sound Index is currently in a public service beta phase, so the site’s still evolving. Nevertheless, the BBC promises that all demographic data collected remains anonymous and no age or location data can be linked with any one user. It’s all about which band or artist is generating the most buzz, 24 / 7. See for yourself at