Piracy does not have to be a black eye for Periscope or any tech company

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I’m not a boxing fan. I watched one boxing match ringside 30 years ago and that was enough for me. But the hype surrounding the widespread use of Periscope to stream the “fight of the century” between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao touched a nerve with me, particularly as I was headed to Capitol Hill just a few days later to join the Creative Rights Caucus for a briefing on the challenges of digital piracy in the age of streaming apps.

Headlines about “the new Napster” notwithstanding, the real story of pirating content via Periscope is about as dramatic as the reports I’ve read about the fight itself. Periscope CEO Kayvon Beykpour has said publicly that he will be part of the solution. After the fight, Beykpour tweeted: “Piracy does not excite us. Trust me, we respect IP rights & had many people working hard to be responsive last night (including myself).” The creative community welcomes this cooperation and looks forward to working with him.

{mosads}Periscope is a new platform, but the digital theft of creative works is a systemic problem and nothing new. Meaningful reductions in piracy can be achieved when all technology companies, from the hot new start-ups to the top of the Fortune 500, take two key steps: First, recognize that a legal digital marketplace for all kinds of content is in their best interests, and second, apply their technical expertise to implement reasonable steps to ensure legitimate use on their platforms.

Unfortunately, it’s still all too common for technology companies, as well as the organizations and advocates they fund, to hide behind platitudes about freedom and exploit real and important concerns about Internet censorship — all in order to shirk responsibility when their products are used to facilitate online theft.

This is shortsighted. Creativity has an intangible cultural value but it also has measurable economic impact. Music, film, books, television, software, newspapers and video games contribute more than $1.1 trillion to the U.S. economy and are responsible for some 5.5 million U.S. jobs. The vast majority of these jobs are not held by movie or TV stars but by hard-working, middle-class Americans. For example, a scripted television show may use up to 750 local vendors per season. Piracy of that television show takes away from a creative economy that employs actors, writers, crew, caterers and delivery truck drivers, among others.

It also takes away from the Internet economy. After all, the legal digital market for creative content drives huge portions of the Internet traffic on leading online platforms. Imagine Netflix without films and television shows, Pandora and Spotify without music, Amazon without books, or Facebook and Twitter without news articles.

Other companies that make up the Internet ecosystem also share an interest in reducing the illegal black market for creative content in favor of a thriving legal one, including credit card companies, Internet service providers, search engines, domain registrars and advertisers.

As with many difficult tasks, the first step these companies must take is to admit that they do, in fact, have a problem. Some may legitimately not know it. We are working with the advertising community in support of its efforts to prevent good ads from ending up on bad sites. Some major brands are surprised to learn that their advertisements routinely appear on pirate sites. According to a May 2015 report from the Digital Citizens Alliance, a sample of nearly 600 pirate sites generated an estimated $209 million in revenue from advertising alone — a significant portion coming from major brands. Other pirate sites are funded by subscription payments that are processed by major credit card companies, giving these sites the appearance of legitimacy.

The technological capability exists to address these problems, but the will, so far, does not. And that, in the end, is what matters. The extraordinary engineers and thinkers who are coming up with more ways to make content available are also capable of coming up with ingenious ways of keeping creative content safe.

Piracy does not have to be a black eye for Periscope, or for any tech company. If tech leaders are serious about building business models that can work for both their companies and the creators whose products add value to their platforms, they’ll have the creative community in their corner. All of us. 

Vitale is the CEO of CreativeFuture, an organization advocating for the creative community in the digital age.

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