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Chat with NBC's Rick Cotton on fighting online piracy


Rick Cotton is corporate America’s lead crusader in stomping out digital piracy. For too long, he says, the Internet has been an unruly playground for cyber pirates illegally buying and copying music, movies, software and other intellectual property without paying what's due to the creators of that content.

That’s starting to change, said Cotton, who visited The Post Thursday for an interview. Cotton is the chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s coalition against counterfeiting and piracy. He’s also the general counsel of NBC Universal. Earlier in the day, he met with lawmakers about the company’s proposed merger with Comcast. And in the video above, he outlines the cost of counterfeiting intellectual property on the Internet and how Washington has been responding.

Evidence of progress against counterfeiting: President Obama has appointed a czar for intellectual property protection and the U.S. Trade Representative has been negotiating with other nations on a trade agreement to keep counterfeiting – online and offline – at bay. Some public interest groups don’t like the way those negotiations are going. Trade representatives have made Internet service providers responsible for tracking illegal exchanges of copyrighted material. That could lead to bad behavior by those ISPs that could end up hurting consumers, the public interest advocates say.

Cotton thinks there’s a middle ground, with solutions wrapped in new technologies.

Here’s an edited version of our interview Thursday.

Q: How do you think Washington needs to approach such a big problem?
A: You need to look at enforcement. And you really need to look at the distribution sectors to take commercially responsible steps to protect their infrastructure from being hijacked. What we need to be talking about is how do we communicate to the Internet user that the law does apply on the Internet and that stealing is wrong and unacceptable in the same way it is in the physical world.

Q: What would be wake-up call for those users to make them change their behavior?
A: It is critically about technology. I'd use video sharing sites as a key example of where technology has dramatically changed the use of unauthorized and infringing content on video sharing sites. That has encouraged Internet users to move to legitimate sites.

Q: What kinds of technologies are you talking about for Internet service providers?
A: Let’s take a bit of a step back. If you look at what the Federal Communications Commission has proposed in its net neutrality proceeding when it is addressing this question of network management, it identified four areas where that is permissible. 1) Congestion, 2) malware, 3) illegal content like child pornography 4) and illegally distributed copyrighted content. So the point is that there are important social needs for which the ISP should have the capability to manage the network.

Q: But what kinds of tools would they use to do that?
A: There is going to need to be some degree of technological development. What we know today is that it is practiced today that an ISP gets forwarded to them when a subscriber illegally uploads or downloads copyrighted content.
So then the question becomes what do you do to address subscribers who ignore repeated notices. That is where the debate gets frequently diverted to an entire concentration of what is the sanction. What’s more important is how does one achieve the end result, which is to recognize that illegal content on the Internet needs to be deterred. Questions of how does one go about it are answered by a mix of education and some kind of deterrent measures.

Q: What is the incentive for an ISP or university to participate?
A: Ultimately it is everyone's interest to have a society that functions under the rule of law. I don't think they want their infrastructure to be misused. And over the long term, there is no reason for an ISP to build huge excess capacity to carry illegal content. So many of the ISPs, in fact, provide legitimate access to content we are talking about. So there is no sense for one house offering legitimate content and the other side not taking action to make sure that the same content is accessed legally.

Q: Do ISPs need to be accountable or liable for the transfer of counterfeited digital content?
A: My own view is that getting too much into that debate is not helpful. When you see mall owners choose to employ security guards because they recognize that they have disruptive behavior in corridors or in the stores is not only not legal or appropriate, it is not good for the environment they are trying to create.

Q: But can you understand the concern that the use of technologies like DPI could be misused? Who is to say those ISPs won’t use the data they find through that surveillance for other commercial purposes with behavioral advertising?
A: It is possible to use technology in ways that fully respect privacy rights and that are fully consistent with free access concerns with respect to broadband Internet. What is needed is cooperative explanation of how to achieve both. Technology is much more capable than that.

Q: Are you saying the opponents of the Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement aren't offering solutions?
A: Yes. They are about just saying no. No is the only answer. That is not only not constructive, I think it is actively destructive.
What strikes me is that everyone marvels at technology of a search engine that can go out and identify 10 million returns in 0.002 of a second. But they say that that same technology has nothing to contribute or can only be a destructive force.

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 30, 2010; 8:00 AM ET
Categories:  Media , Net Neutrality , VIDEOS , copyright  
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Comments

This guy is an idiot. Now that he's helped run NBC into the ground, he comes whining to the government looking to prop up his failing business practices instead of listening to customers and giving them what they want. Cry me a river.

Posted by: vypergts | April 30, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

Cecila here are some questions you missed.

ACTA has secondary liability much like china uses to cause ISP's to police their clients. This leads to applications and new technologies being not implemented due to fear. Is this what you want for the US and the rest of the world?

ACTA will force ISP's to spy on people. We have seen the result of this with the bush administrations actions. Due process and the rule of law went out the window and the system was abused by the federal government. Much like what we have seen in the Pennsylvania school system with the spying on students by the school district....

Rick, you once stated that popcorn farmers would be put out of business because of piracy please explain this me.

Do you understand that ACTA violates five constitutional amendments, due process, and possibly federal wiretap laws?

etc

You are supposed to be a reporter, act like one and actually sit down and read the text of ACTA and do some research.

Posted by: Hephaestus42 | April 30, 2010 10:05 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, Hephaestus42, but the Post laid off all the reporters who know something, or take the time to learn something, about topics before interviewing on them or writing on them. It's far, far cheaper that way.

Posted by: christopher_a_metzler | May 1, 2010 10:14 AM | Report abuse

Yeah christopher_a_metzler what was I thinking? If you have reporters that actually investigate, push the limits, and do research people might find the newspaper worth reading. No wonder the papers are failing at a rate 25% faster than I predicted a decade ago.

Posted by: Hephaestus42 | May 1, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Indeed, the Post needs better reporters. This one can only spout the agenda of Google -- effectively lobbying for that company in print. That's why she equates ISPs helping to stop crime with "bad behavior."

Posted by: LBrettGlass | May 1, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

They pitch harder balls in my 7-year-old daughter's baseball league than Ms. Kang lobbed to Rick Cotton.

Posted by: ronpaul2008com | May 2, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Very weak interview. No follow up to any of the questions. Maybe the unedited version is more informative, but what is listed here is pretty one sided.

"You need to look at enforcement. And you really need to look at the distribution sectors to take commercially responsible steps to protect their infrastructure from being hijacked."

- Would be nice to see how this plays out. Should phone carriers be responsible for the conversations over their lines or do they fall under "common carrier"?

"If you look at what the Federal Communications Commission has proposed in its net neutrality proceeding when it is addressing this question of network management, it identified four areas where that is permissible. 1) Congestion, 2) malware, 3) illegal content like child pornography 4) and illegally distributed copyrighted content. So the point is that there are important social needs for which the ISP should have the capability to manage the network."

- Gotta bring the "think of the children" into this. Net Neutrality doesn't relate to content in this respect. All that I've read on it points to ISPs shaping traffic based on content and source/destination. Basically giving the ability to create "tiered" service based on paying more from both customers and servers. Customers could find their usage throttled (even though they pay for a certain service level). Servers would find their connection throttled since ISPs want a share in their profits (ex. Google advertising revenue).

"What we know today is that it is practiced today that an ISP gets forwarded to them when a subscriber illegally uploads or downloads copyrighted content."

- Almost sounds like he's just barely skating around the subject of allowing content owners to directly interact with ISPs and avoiding the court system. If a person is doing something illegal, content owners should work within the legal system. Content owners shouldn't rely on ISPs to enforce their content rights and they shouldn't be able to bypass due process.

"My own view is that getting too much into that debate is not helpful. When you see mall owners choose to employ security guards because they recognize that they have disruptive behavior in corridors or in the stores is not only not legal or appropriate, it is not good for the environment they are trying to create."

- Comparing two different entities. A physical store is very different from an online environment. ISPs aren't responsible for the hosting companies connected to the Internet. They aren't responsible for customers connected to the Internet. Other than charging for the privilege to run over their network, they have little to do with the endpoints. A mall on the other hand has the interest of physical space that they rent to the stores. If the mall is "unsafe", the store loses sales. The Internet doesn't suffer from the same safety issues. The worst that can happen to me online is my PC becomes infected, not a loss of life.

Posted by: jim_maryland | May 3, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

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