When an image, a song, or other work is put in digital form, it is easier to distribute legally, but it can also spread like wildfire without the creator’s permission and potentially cost the artist lost sales or licensing opportunities.
So what does all this mean? Here are some questions and answers that might help you understand it a bit more:
What is digital theft?
Digital theft occurs when a creative work – like a song, movie, visual image, or text – is made available online for further distribution, in violation of copyright law and without the consent of the artist, creator, or author. There are websites that are designed primarily for the purpose of selling or distributing creative works without the creators’ consent. These websites perpetuate digital theft on a massive scale because it is central to their activities. They are dishonest, and they trick the consumer into thinking that the artist has agreed to sell his works through the site. This is most likely not the case. These websites are often called rogue websites and:
- Often look professional and well-designed.
- Often have third-party advertising.
- Might accept credit cards for payment if they are selling the creative works.
- Might provide links and lists of creative works that can be downloaded or streamed for free.
Artists, workers and creators across the country are battling online theft daily. Because of this, the creative community is uniting together to stop digital theft and to champion the rights of artists in supporting jobs, economic growth, and the cultural contributions they make to our society.
Why can’t the infringing content just be taken down?
Copyright owners try to take these sites down daily, but they often spring right up again.
Many of the rogue websites distributing infringing copyrighted works are also created and hosted overseas, making it nearly impossible for artists to track down and confront the web operators. When a website is hosted in another country, the operator is often unresponsive to requests to remove infringing files, and an artist must pursue international litigation to stop the infringement. This is both costly and time-consuming. Likewise, U.S. law enforcement agencies often aren’t able to apprehend the operators of these websites, because they are outside U.S. jurisdiction.
In addition, rogue websites frequently do not provide easy means of identifying the infringing content and requesting for it to be taken down by the website operator. Moreover, links and infringing content on websites can be posted and reposted quickly. When an artist or creator finds his work and contacts the infringer, often the infringing content is taken down only to be reposted again under another name so that it remains available to the public.
This creates a game of whack-a-mole which forces the artist to constantly be stomping out offenders only to find new ones popping up. If artists are spending all their time policing these websites and chasing down thieves, when will they have time to work? Further, their jobs and their livelihood are compromised. Being a creator is not easy – otherwise we all would do it. And without income from their creative work, artists cannot continue to support themselves, or hire others, and all of us are the poorer for the lack of their contributions to our world.
Check out this short video by independent filmmaker Ellen Seidler as she talks about how websites that are illegally hosting her movie are profiting, and how difficult it is to get the content removed.
Click on the solution to see what is being done about these websites.
How do I know if I am on an infringing website?
It is often difficult to tell whether or not a website is an illegal or legitimate one. This distinction is important for consumers to recognize and understand, not only because illegal sites steal from creators, but also because many of these sites pose risks to consumers’ privacy and create potential for identity theft.
Here are some tips to remember that can help indicate whether to use the website:
Be cautious when websites make offers that are too good to be true
Be wary of “too good to be true” offers, such as those that offer “free” content on unfamiliar sites; they typically indicate pirated product. Look out for terms like “Unlimited Movie Downloads”, “100% Legal” and “Millions of Files Shared”. Similarly movies, music, and other creative works that are too new to be true should raise concerns. For example, movies that have not been released in theaters, or that are still in theaters, are not legally available online. If such titles are being offered, they are almost invariably illegal copies.
No details or contact information
Offers for one-time or yearly fees with no details and no contact information should also raise warning flags. If the site avoids disclosing its location, providing no address or “Contact Us” information, this is also a likely illegal site.
There are many options for finding legal content online; here are sources for some links to get you started:
How does digital theft harm artists and creators?
Artists work hard. They work just as hard as the next guy. They contribute something unique to our cultural heritage. They deserve to be fairly recognized and compensated for their work, just like any other small business or entrepreneur. Digital theft undermines the valuable contributions that artists make to society. Worse still, digital thieves take for themselves the compensation the artist could otherwise have earned for her work, and deny the artist access to her audience. All of the “clicks” and advertising dollars associated with those “clicks” go to the operator of the website, potential fans are diverted from the artist’s legitimate site and she is denied the opportunity to communicate with potential fans.
Artists also often employ and support many other individuals in their community. For example, a small graphic design firm might have two or three employees, each living within their community. A band might hire a visual artist to design the cover of their new album. Or, a photographer will work with a makeup artist to enhance the look of his photography subjects. Each person that works with an artist is impacted by the effects of rogue websites; if the artist does not receive compensation for his work, then she may not be able to employ or support others within her community.
In short, because digital theft perpetuates the loss of income from sales and licensing opportunities, artists’ and creators’ jobs and wages are on the line. If artists and creators cannot derive income from their work, they and their families suffer because of job loss and pay cuts. In fact, entire communities feel the shortfall when the creative sector begins to diminish. Not only do fewer artistic and creative opportunities exist for the public to engage in, but a community’s tax base shrinks. A smaller tax base leads to fewer overall resources with which a city, county, or state has to draw from which reduce other services and resources a community could otherwise enjoy.