Guild presses White House to take more action

The Writers Guild of America, West, pressed the White House for increased measures to fight online piracy, but also warned that too vigorous an approach to combating copyright infringement could be a “red herring” that favors media congloms and Internet providers at the expense of smaller players.

The WGAW, along with the Writers Guild of America, East, were the only two industry labor guilds not to take part in a separate letter sent to Espinel on Wednesday, in which a coalition of show biz unions, studios and record labels called for a wider range of steps to limit online piracy.

Their concerns came in a letter sent to Victoria Espinel, the Obama administration’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, who has solicited comments as she draws up a strategic plan to fight copyright infringement.

“We believe that the proper approach to piracy, particularly online piracy, must focus not on prior restraint but rather on tools to enforce the law,” the WGAW said in its letter. “Crafting solutions to piracy requires surgical precision, not a blow from a blunt object.”

While insisting that they “are determined to curtail piracy as a matter of survival,” the writers expressed reservations with such techniques as filtering technology, citing worries that media congloms could “flag” their content as non-pirated, while other content is delayed in “reaching its final destination” as it goes through the filter.

“Web video watchers often make decisions in seconds, and even the slightest delay may result in viewers clicking through to a different site/video,” the WGAW’s letter says.

Rather, the WGAW is bullish on what is called a “graduated response,” also has been referred to as a “three strikes” approach in which a copyright holder, working with an Internet provider, can send messages to users of pirated content. If they continue to view or traffic pirated content, they face having their Internet access suspended. The WGAW adds that an “effective and fair” approach would be to also have “an impartial proceeding” before an Internet connection is terminated.

The industry lobby, led by the MPAA, also favors a “three strikes” approach, although some studio executives doubt whether it will be enough to combat the proliferation of infringing content. And while provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act allow Internet providers to terminate a user’s access, there is wariness among Internet firms to disconnect unless there is a judicial determination to do so.

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