Internet

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Newsflash: You Don’t Have to Pirate Content

Today, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) launched its innovative new Website: WheretoWatch.com (WTW).  The search engine is a simple way for consumers to find all the movies and television they are interested in viewing — from new episodes of The Mindy Project to classics like Casablanca and even Oscar contenders still in theaters, such as The Theory of Everything. Indeed WTW allows consumers to:

  • Search for movie/TV show availability on digital downloading sites, streaming sites or in stores;
  • Find theater times and locations for every newly released movies nearby;
  • Receive notifications when the content they are interested in becomes available from their favorite providers.

The site works by aggregating content from a range of outlets, including Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Xbox and smaller indie sites such as Snag Films and WolfeOnDemand. By simplifying the search process, consumers will be able to find exactly what they are looking for exactly when they want it: it marries accessibility to content for customers with protection of the intellectual property for creators of the content.

Even more importantly, however, WTW reaffirms the commitment that Hollywood is making toward more legally available content. … Read the rest

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New York is moving in the right direction on BitLicenses

On July 17, 2014 the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS) released a proposed regulatory framework for businesses that use virtual currencies (e.g., Bitcoin) to apply for BitLicenses. The proposed policy would regulate businesses if they hold or transmit virtual currency on behalf of others, or if they convert virtual currencies to everyday currencies (e.g., USD). These rules were proposed to bring regulatory certainty, transparency, and clarity to virtual currency businesses (for background on the BitLicensing framework, read our previous post). Seeing areas that were ripe for improvement in these proposed regulations, ITIF filed comments with NYSDFS to encourage innovation, competition, and investment in virtual currency businesses.

Since the comment period ended on October 21, 2014, NYSDFS Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky has signaled that NYSDFS may adopt several of the recommendations outlined in our comments. Among them, Lawsky has signaled that BitLicenses will not apply to virtual currency miners—businesses or individuals that create and circulate virtual currency on the blockchain.  Lawsky has also stated that NYSDFS is considering a transitional BitLicense for startups, and may exempt non-financial blockchain projects. We applaud Superintendent Lawsky and … Read the rest

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The Best Search Results are the Legal Ones

Last Friday, Google published its new How Google Fights Piracy report with details of the improved methods Google is using to combat piracy across a variety of its services. While the report itself is an impressive overview of the many policies and protocols Google has put in place, as well as the results of such protocols, most notable are the three ways Google has reformed search over the last year: demoting sites with many DMCA takedown notices, removing piracy-related autocomplete terms, and improving ad formats.

The report notes that in 2013, Google received just over 224 million DMCA requests for Google search results and they removed over 222 million of them, with an average turnaround time of six hours or less. But in addition to removing these infringing pages from search results (whether through its content removal webform or the Trusted Copyright Removal Program that allows trusted content owners to submit bulk takedown requests), Google has improved and refined its search algorithm to rank sites in part by how many removal notices it has received. Consequently, sites with high numbers of removal notices are demoted to lower search results. This … Read the rest

bitcoin & Litcoin

New York should ensure “BitLicenses” are a Step Forward for Innovation

On July 17, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS) released a proposed regulatory framework for virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, that would require businesses that hold, transmit, or convert virtual currencies to everyday currencies to apply for “BitLicenses.” (For background on the BitLicensing framework, read this previous post.)

The following is a truncated version of the comments we filed with NYSDFS today:

It is important to note that while ITIF applauds the desire to bring regulatory certainty, transparency, and clarity to virtual currency businesses, the State of New York is likely the wrong entity to address these important policy issues. One of the challenges of global systems, such as virtual currencies or the Internet, is that they are subject to multiple jurisdictions by sovereign countries. Subnational governments, like states, should not compound the problem of multiple and varied laws between countries by creating their own additional rules and regulations. A better approach would be for states to either defer to the federal government or work in partnership with all states to create a single, national approach to policy.

However, if NYSDFS continues to pursue these regulations, … Read the rest

Gilmore-Girls

Spoiler Alert! Illegal Downloaders Steal Content Even When Legally Available

The film and TV industry receives a lot of flak from critics for being its own worst enemy. If Hollywood studios want consumers to pay for content, the argument goes, then they should make it easier to download legally. If piracy is a problem for the industry, then maybe it should take a hard look in the mirror.

The only problem with this argument is that it’s completely false. KPMG just released a first of its kind study assessing the availability of movies and TV shows online. It found that as of December 2013, 81 percent of the 808 unique films studied were available on at least 10 of the 34 online video-on-demand (VOD) service providers. Only 50 of the films studied were not available on any of the 34 online video offerings that KPMG reviewed. The study also found rapid growth in the number of TV viewing options available to audiences. Overall, 85 percent of the most popular and critically acclaimed TV titles were available in the U.S. through legitimate online video services.

This development could not be timelier, with both the ramp up to the Oscars and Fall … Read the rest

Taken by Tom Blackwell

The LEADS Act presents a path forward for cross-border digital searches

Last week, Senators Hatch, Coons and Heller introduced the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad (LEADS) Act which seeks to clarify the powers that warrants issued by the U.S. courts have on data stored abroad. The LEADS Act also focuses on reforming the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) process, which are agreements designed for law enforcement agencies to receive and provide assistance to their counterparts in other countries. If enacted, this law could have both immediate effects on a current court case, and far-reaching effects on international agreements for cross-border access to data for law enforcement purposes.

Until now, the U.S. government has argued that it could use the powers granted to it under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to gain lawful access to data stored abroad if the company storing it had a presence on U.S. soil. The LEADS Act would clarify ECPA, stating specifically that the U.S. government cannot compel the disclosure of data from U.S. providers stored abroad if accessing that data violates the laws of the country where it is stored or if the data is not associated with a U.S. person—a citizen or … Read the rest

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They Aim to Misbehave

Last Monday night, the television world was abuzz with anticipation for what seemed like the perfect end to the “McConaissance”: an Emmy, in the same year as his Oscar, for actor Matthew McConaughey’s performance in the acclaimed HBO drama True Detective. Defying all expectations (and perhaps the Vegas odds) McConaughey lost to repeat winner Bryan Cranston, for his equally acclaimed work on the hit AMC series Breaking Bad. The triumph of TV stardom over movie stardom is rare in Hollywood, and as host Seth Meyers noted at the beginning of the night, “[TV’s] not like that high-maintenance diva movies, who expect you to put on pants and drive all the way over to her house and buy $40 worth of soda.” Perhaps this is why TV is also gaining on movies in another area besides awards: piracy.

Piracy in TV is rapidly increasing, as just about every Emmy-nominated show—broadcast, cable, pay-per-view and streaming—suffers from illegal downloads. In fact, surprisingly, according to Tru Optik, it is Netflix’s Orange is the New Black (OITNB) that secured the second spot this year, behind oft-cited industry statistic, HBO’s Game of Thrones. … Read the rest

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“BitLicenses” Explained

In the past few years, virtual currencies, particularly Bitcoin, have jumped from an online experiment to a multi-billion dollar global phenomenon. Now, governments are starting to recognize these currencies, hoping to both legitimize and secure them with proposed regulations. On July 17, the New York State Department of Financial Services (NYSDFS) released a proposed regulatory framework for virtual currency that would require businesses that hold, transmit or convert virtual currencies to everyday currencies to apply for “BitLicenses.” This is one of the first proposed regulations on virtual currencies in the United States since the IRS proclaimed Bitcoin to be property subject to capital gains tax last March. While NYSDFS is still only seeking comments on these rules and nothing is final, I will attempt to break down the proposal as is and provide some initial thoughts on the implications for virtual currencies.

What is the purpose of the regulations?

NYSDFS announced these regulations as a result of public hearings it conducted in January 2014. NYSDFS hopes to use these rules to protect consumers, prevent money laundering, and improve cyber security for businesses that use virtual currencies. These regulations represent … Read the rest

Image taken by Bob Mical.

How FITARA Can Help Federal Agencies with Their IT Problem

In 2004, the Department of Veterans Affairs was forced to scrap a multimillion-dollar computer system that was designed to streamline the agency’s costs. Ironically, the project cost taxpayers $265 million, and is one of many examples of federal IT projects which go massively over budget and under deliver. Part of the reason for these failures is the last time we made significant changes to how our government acquired its own IT was the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. This law was enacted the year before Google.com was registered as a domain name, back when Windows 95 was the new big thing. Almost two decades later, while innovation has continued to press forward, our government’s ability to efficiently acquire new IT has lagged miserably behind.

Luckily, a few lawmakers are trying to remedy that. In March 2013, Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Gerry Connelly (D-VA) introduced H.R. 1232, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), to overhaul the federal government’s approach to acquiring IT. The bill seeks to designate clear responsibility and authority over federal IT investment, enhance the government’s ability to get good IT, strengthen the federal IT … Read the rest

InternetTaxblog

Misinformation in the Internet Tax Freedom Act Debate

In 1998, Congress recognized that taxation could slow the growth of the Internet adoption and suppress the enormous potential of the digital economy and so it passed the Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) to prohibit states from imposing new taxes on Internet access. After being renewed in 2001, 2004, and 2007, ITFA is once again set to expire and there is a lively debate over whether it should reauthorized and made permanent.

Unfortunately, not all participants in the debate are presenting the facts accurately. Michael Mazerov, a Senior Fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ State Fiscal Project, recently wrote a blog post opposing the extension, and one of his key assertions was that there are no differences in broadband subscription rates between states with and without taxes placed on Internet access. To back this dubious claim, Mazerov cites a 2006 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

But there’s only one problem: the GAO didn’t say this.  In fact, when presenting its finding, the GAO states very clearly that their ability to properly analyze the problem was compromised by a lack of broadband pricing data. The only … Read the rest