Voluntary Agreements Can Help Combat Digital Piracy, New Report Argues

February 24, 2020

WASHINGTON—There is no single, easy solution to the ongoing scourge of digital content piracy on the Internet. But a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy, argues that voluntary agreements between copyright holders and payment processors, advertising networks, domain name registrars, search engines, and other stakeholders can serve as an important complement to legislative and other efforts by governments.

“Experience shows that legitimate players with an interest in preserving an innovative, prosperous digital economy can work together to make life harder and costlier for illicit operators who profit from piracy,” said ITIF Associate Director for Trade Policy Nigel Cory, who authored the report. “These voluntary agreements target the supply side of the digital piracy equation, such as by getting sites with infringing content blocked or removed so they can’t operate and profit as if they were legitimate businesses.”

Voluntary agreements among stakeholders are not a replacement for government action; the report notes that governments may need to legislate to address aspects of the digital piracy problem. But the record shows that robust, cooperative voluntary efforts can have a meaningful effect on consumer behavior, while also reducing piracy and increasing legal sales.

The report reviews the progress of voluntary agreements in the United States, Europe, the Asia-Pacific region, and the World Intellectual Property Organization. It then offers the following recommendations:

  • Governments should support voluntary agreements as one of the policy tools they use to fight digital piracy.
  • The United States, the EU, its member states, and other countries should support further research and discussion around how voluntary agreements should be a standard part of every country’s digital piracy toolkit. As part of this, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) should develop the core principles and processes necessary to create a template for voluntary agreements and include voluntary agreements as part of its standard digital economy policy recommendations.
  • Australia, the EU, United Kingdom, United States, and others should actively encourage other countries to use voluntary agreements (which at the moment they don’t), and other anti-piracy policies, as part of a holistic approach to protect and support the creation of legal content in their respective countries. Ultimately, this needs to be part of a broader, energized effort to support the development of a global digital economy based on legal (and not illegal) content.

Read the report.