ISPs, Web sites must tackle piracy, says Viacom chief

But media companies also must make it easy for consumers to obtain content legally, Redstone says

Internet service providers, Web site operators and manufacturers of devices that are used by some to pirate content should play a part in stamping out that piracy, said Sumner Redstone, chairman and controlling shareholder of both media company Viacom International Inc. and CBS Corp.

"It is obviously impossible to check every computer or look over the shoulder of every user around the world to see whether they have a license to use our content, and we don't want to do that," said Redstone in a keynote address today to the Seoul Digital Forum, which was monitored by webcast in Tokyo. "So solutions turn on enlisting the aggregators -- ISPs, device manufacturers, hosting companies and site operators -- in this effort. We're not asking for perfection. But we do ask that companies that become aware of piracy using their facilities, do something about it."

Redstone, who was on his first visit to South Korea, spent about one third of his keynote address speaking about piracy and the damage it does to companies like his own.

"When you can instantly and easily download a high-quality, feature length film for free, with no repercussions, the incentive to purchase it quickly evaporates," he said. "If this sort of theft is allowed to continue unabated, the incentive to create programming will disappear."

While battling piracy, content providers need to forge on into new media markets and use new distribution methods to reach consumers, he said.

"Media companies, in turn, need to make it easy for consumers to obtain our content in a legal manner," Redstone said. "We cannot let the lack of perfect antipiracy tools keep us from forging ahead in providing the best, most innovative, creative content to the consumer over whatever medium they prefer ... whenever and wherever they prefer it."

Content providers like Redstone's CBS and Viacom have been battling online piracy of movies and TV shows for several years.

First efforts involved a string of high-profile lawsuits against individual Internet users, but with so many people participating in file sharing and other forms of piracy, the target of actions switched to site operators.

YouTube has been a major focus, and a chorus of complaints from TV stations and movie companies pushed the Google-owned site to introduce a watermarking system that seeks to block copyrighted material from being uploaded.

"They cannot get away with stealing our product," Redstone said of YouTube. "We cannot tolerate any form of piracy by anyone, including YouTube." Viacom is suing YouTube and its parent company, Google Inc., for more than $1 billion, claiming the companies are infringing on Viacom's copyrights.

But getting ISPs to monitor and filter traffic of their users has traditionally been difficult. Most keep their hands off packets traveling through their networks and devices arguing that they are conduits and not responsible for the actions of their users. Today, many ISPs in the U.S. will act on copyright complaints but only after a claim has been made under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Redstone also called on regulators the world over to ensure copyrights are protected and infringements are punished.

In some nations, the tide is turning against piracy, thanks to new laws, he said, which were introduced not to help Hollywood but to prevent damage to emerging local content industries.

"The good news is: I am increasingly preaching to the converted in piracy-prone markets around the world," he said. "Governments in China and India are starting to take an active interest in enforcing copyright, if only to protect their own homegrown content."

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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