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Streaming and download piracy website traffic has dramatically surged during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to London-based piracy analysts Muso, analyzing the last 7 days of March 2020 compared to the last 7 days of February, visits to streaming and download piracy websites rose by 41.4% in the United States, 42.5% in the United Kingdom, 66% in Italy, 50.4% in Spain, and 35.5% in Germany.

Viewers stuck at home may feel like they’re winning, or that they’re only sticking it to corporate America by stealing content, but small and independent creators, who rely on Video-on-Demand (VOD) sales to make back production costs, are the biggest losers. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is one way to combat online piracy, but the Act is toothless for anyone without a copyright department — which includes every single independent producer.

CopyrightSlap.com was designed by an independent filmmaker to be the copyright department for all small production houses, even one-person ones. It is a resource that was designed to be affordable and manageable for the smallest of content creators, and not just for the big creators with millions of dollars in backing.

What is copyright infringement?

An infringement is when a copyrighted work is posted, released, or used outside of the designated means that the copyright holder permits or that is defined by Fair Use. Examples of infringements include but are definitely not limited to: illegal movie streaming sites posting ripped films online, a brand using a photographer’s photo in an ad campaign without permission and without paying the photographer, posting a PDF of a book on a website without the permission of the publisher or the author, and someone posting and giving away a copyrighted song for free on their website. 

Who is affected by online piracy?

Everyone related to a piece of content’s creation is affected by piracy — The publisher or producer who releases the content had to pay for the creation of that work, while the sale of the content is what helps pay back the costs of production as well as, hopefully, creates income to make creating another piece of content worthwhile.

In the Independent Film world, VOD (Video on Demand) and non-theatrical releases are where producers aim to gain back the costs of their film. When their film is pirated, the chance of their making back losses or making any future projects is greatly hindered. Even something as simple as Amazon Prime free videos, the producer makes fractions of a penny per minute their film is watched, but that can add up to help pay back costs.

In the TV and film industry, directors, actors, and many members of a project make their money from residuals, dues owed to them from earnings from sales of a film — but with piracy, each and every member due residuals loses out on those earnings. The same goes for musicians and producers who create songs and albums. Just because something is digital does not mean that the creator did not spend a lot to make that creation happen — photographers’ camera, lenses, lights, computers, software, and other costs add up, and they recoup those costs, and make a living, by selling or licensing their pictures for advertisements or general sale. When their works are taken without permission or payment, their livelihood is taken away. No one thinks it is right to go into a brick-and-mortar store and take a Blu-ray or book or photograph off a shelf or wall and walk out without paying for it; digitally, there is an odd double perspective where it is not viewed the same, when it is exactly the same. 

Piracy hurts the big budget world, but more directly it destroys the independent film, literary, music, and the creative world entirely. You may think that your one act of watching or downloading won’t hurt, but everyone else thinking the same adds up to a whole lot of destruction.

How do you counter online piracy and what is the DMCA?

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a U.S. law enacted in 1998 in an effort to combat piracy while also protecting freedom of speech. The pitfall of the DMCA is that in order to “protect” free speech, it notes that any content put online is considered not to be copyright infringement unless the copyright holder, or representative thereof, directly informs the site or the individual who posted the content that the content is indeed copyrighted.

After being informed, the site has “a reasonable amount of time” (deemed 48-72 hours, by de facto enforcement by the courts) to remove the content before it is considered to be an illegal act. What this means is that a content creator needs to find every occurrence of infringement on the Internet and then find the site’s contact information, or Web Host/ISP’s contact information, and send a very specifically formatted letter (as defined by the DMCA) to that contact, before it will ever be considered needed to be taken down. Once received, if the content is not removed, then the content creator can use the Violation Notice sent, and a screenshot of the piracy, as a basis for legal action.

The issue is, attorneys cost money and there are an endless number of sites pirating content, so for the standard copyright holder taking legal action would be a Sisyphean act, costing them endless time and money, only to run up against pirates that hide behind fake email addresses and false contact information. A lot has changed in the computer and Internet world in the last 20+ years since the DMCA was enacted.

What does CopyrightSlap.com do differently?

One thing that sets CopyrightSlap.com apart from other companies is that one of its founders is an independent film producer and the company was created with a singular goal of making it easier for low-budget productions to protect their works online. CopyrightSlap.com offers unlimited DMCA Violation Notice submissions and makes a submission as simple as copying and pasting a URL. In addition, CopyrightSlap.com provides a daily list of possible infringements that our system finds for active projects.

How does CopyrightSlap.com do that? Through a connected series of automations working hand-in-hand with proprietary AI learning. Most companies that assist content creators in sending DMCA Violation Notices charge $200 per URL and on top of all that make the content creator fill out 10x more each takedown they wish to send — while CopyrightSlap.com charges $20 for 30 days of unlimited takedowns. In addition, because CopyrightSlap.com cares more about stopping online piracy than fleecing content creators, CopyrightSlap.com has begun a relationship with Homeland Security Investigations’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center. CopyrightSlap.com’s AI identifies sites that are used solely for online piracy, based on anonymous user-generated responses within its system, and then sends those blacklisted sites to the NIPRCC so that they can go after not just an individual url, but an entire domain.

When piracy sites can be taken down in entirety, the battle against online piracy can have an impact. 

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About 

Evan Bass Zeisel, a graduate of Columbia University, is a filmmaker, writer, entrepreneur, and the CEO of Copyright Slap LLC. Evan has produced numerous independent films during the last decade -- from the multi-award-winning short film How You Are to Me to the feature thriller The Eve. He has also produced many original web series, including Buddy CoPs, The SIT Network, and Zombie Survival Training with William Stradler.

With the release of his first feature on Video-On-Demand (VOD), Evan became aware of how damaging and costly illegal streaming and online piracy are for independent filmmakers. After spending hours manually submitting DMCA Violation Notices, he reached out to a college friend, Lee Kowitz (CTO of Copyright Slap LLC), to pitch the idea of a company that would help independent content creators fight online piracy without breaking the bank. Together, they imagined a digital army pairing AI-learning with individualized attention, and CopyrightSlap.com was born.