The BBC's approach to combating online piracy
The passage of the Digital Economy Act (DEA) through the Houses of Parliament earlier this year highlighted the potential threat of online piracy for the creative industries. The legislation primarily focused on one approach to preventing online piracy: legal action against those who illicitly use peer-to-peer file technology to exchange unlawful copies of copyright material.
However, as has been apparent from the conversations on the BBC Internet Blog and elsewhere, other solutions also have a role to play such as the use of content protection technologies, development of new business models and reforming copyright law so that it is simpler to make legal alternatives to pirated content more widely available in easier to consume and more convenient ways.
So I thought it would be useful to take a step back and bring all these different strands of the debate together by summarising the BBC's broad approach to combating piracy in the digital age.
Piracy can manifest itself in many forms. For example, in addition to illicit use of file sharing technologies, streaming of whole channels over the internet and services which allow unauthorised access to BBC iPlayer by internet users outside of the UK can also pose challenges. It is important that the BBC takes a consistent approach to tackling all forms of online piracy. If we didn't, there would be a risk that dealing with one type of piracy might simply encourage interest in other types.
The principle of universal access lies at the heart of our overall approach to halting online piracy. A key objective for the BBC is to ensure that its content is available on as many platforms as possible for the benefit of licence fee payers. This suggests that the single most effective thing that the BBC can do to address piracy is to provide attractive legal alternatives - for example, by offering live TV and radio streams or by enabling licence fee payers to watch licence fee funded content on BBC iPlayer.
But in order to do this we need to need to balance many factors including value for money, market impact and our commitments to rights holders and the third parties involved in making our programmes, not only BBC Worldwide (as has been suggested on the BBC internet blog), but also actors, writers, photographers, musicians, sports rights holders, our partners from the independent sector and foreign studios.
The second element of the anti piracy jigsaw is promotion of copyright awareness and education. Over the longer term, online piracy can most effectively be tackled by changing viewers' attitudes and behaviour. This won't be easy as at the moment very little is known about who the most prolific online pirates are or what motivates them. Furthermore although it makes sense for rights holders to collectively undertake information campaigns about the impact of piracy on the creative industries, it can be difficult for rights holders who often have slightly different problems and priorities to agree coordinated action. This is something that has been recognised by government and in the future Ofcom will be required under the DEA, on an annual basis, to provide the Secretary of State with a description of the steps taken by qualifying copyright owners to inform, and change the attitude of, members of the public in relation to the infringement of copyright.
The third element is enforcement of anti piracy legislation. The BBC in the past has pursued businesses offering live or near live online streaming of BBC channels - for example TV CatchUp and Zattoo. However, for the first time, the Digital Economy Act provides opportunities for rights holders to pursue persistent offenders. As we have always made clear it is important that any legal solutions are both targeted and proportionate.
The final element of the BBC's wider strategy against piracy in the digital age, and the aspect that has prompted discussion on the pages of the BBC Internet Blog, has been the BBC's use of technical content protection. Earlier blogs have spelt out the rationale for activity in this area, so I won't repeat the arguments here. However, it is worth adding that since we last posted on this subject, Ofcom has concluded that we have struck the right balance between the interests of consumers and the interests of broadcast rights holders.
Looking ahead, the discussions are unlikely to abate for the foreseeable future. The implementation of the DEA will undoubtedly continue to provoke extreme views on both sides about how best to deal with the problem of online piracy. However, I hope as a result of this blog, the way in which any interventions by the BBC contribute to addressing piracy will be clearer.
Najma Rajah is Senior Economic Adviser in Policy and Strategy.