5 Copyright and Plagiarism Themes to Watch in 2015

FireworksPreviously, we looked back at the year 2014 and what were some of the overarching themes of the year.

But, as great as that was, most people want to know what’s coming up, not what’s already behind them. So, with that in mind, we’re also going to take a look at some of the likely themes for 2015.

As with previous forward-looking lists, this is mostly in good fun and is purely conjecture. While most of this is based on some kind of evidence, copyright and plagiarism, as I’ve learned over the past ten years, are particularly unpredictable and prone to surprises.

Still, it can be fun and useful to look ahead at what is likely coming. So, with no further ado, here’s a look at how I did last year followed by my predictions for 2015.

First, a Look Back

At this time last year, I posted my list of five copyright themes to watch in 2014. Overall, I think I did a pretty good job though there were definitely some things I missed.

  1. U.S. Copyright Reform: First, I predicted the hearings about copyright reform in the U.S. would bear some interesting fruit. Unfortunately, that was a big swing and a miss. The hearings are still ongoing and it is increasingly looking like any changes will be minor at most. Given the change in Congress, it seems even less likely that copyright, a low-priority item in the U.S., will be the target for major reform in 2015.
  2. Aereo and the Definition of Retransmission: This one, however, was a home run. I predicted that the Aereo case would come to a head in 2014 and that we would learn more about the definition of “retransmission” and “public performance” on the Web. The Supreme Court spoke and shuttered Aereo, defining its system, which used one antenna per customer, as a public performance akin to a cable company. But while Aereo is being divided up in bankruptcy court, the FCC also proposed a new rule to make the definition of a multichannel video programming distributor tech-neutral, paving a potential path for those that come after it.
  3. Kim Dotcom and Megaupload: I predicted that we would find out whether Kim Dotcom would be extradited to the U.S. and when/if major rightsholders would sue him in civil court for his role in Megaupload. This was a base hit as the Kim Dotcom extradition hearing was postponed to June of this year, but the RIAA and MPAA did indeed sue Kim Dotcom in 2014. However, those cases are on hold pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
  4. YouTube and Content ID: Not long before I had made my predictions last year, YouTube had changed its copyright policy and began scanning videos uploaded through mutlichannel networks (MCNs) with its Content ID matching system. This resulted in a slew of previously-uploaded videos being matched as containing infringing content and either being blocked, removed or having advertising restricted. That, in turn, produced an uproar and backlash at MCNs, which offered Content ID-free posting as a major benefit. I wondered aloud how MCNs and YouTube would fare after the incident. However, the story didn’t really continue into 2014. But it didn’t exactly go away either, when Amazon bought Twitch.TV this year, Twitch began muting on-demand videos using a similar system. So while this prediction probably wasn’t a hit, I definitely got on base so I’m calling it either a walk or an error.
  5. Site Blocking: Finally, I predicted that site blocking would continue to be a major issue in 2014, noting that, while U.S. efforts in the area died in 2012, other countries were just starting in 2013. It was probably my safest bet and another one that came through solidly. Not only did we see the European Court of Justice address the issue for the EU, but we saw the issue reared some in the US at the end of the year as the MPAA was rumored to be looking at new approaches to force ISPs to block websites. The issue definitely remained a hot and repeated topic throughout 2014 so I’m considering this one a ground rule double.

All in all, only one of the predictions proved to be completely untrue and even that generated some headlines over the year. If I’m guilty of anything, it’s making “safe” predictions that almost had to come true in some form, which most id.

So, on that note, what am I looking at in 2015? Here are a few of my guesses (most of which will repeat the same sin of being too safe).

1. What Does Copyright Protect?

Quickly. What does the Happy Birthday, Innocence of Muslims and Google/Oracle lawsuits all have in common? They are all about what is or is not copyright protectable.

Interestingly, none of the cases have roots in anything particularly new or novel, as with the Aereo case. The song Happy Birthday to You has roots around 100 years old, movies themselves (and issues around actors’ rights) are just as old and while the issue of APIs being explored in the Google case seem new, APIs are a key part of programming and have been around in some form as long as computers.

While not all of these cases will come to a head in 2015, I fully expect at least one or two to do so. More importantly though, there will be a great deal of discussion about just what copyright should and should not protect in 2015.

2. Contract Cheating

When it comes to academic plagiarism and cheating, we’re reaching something of a tipping point.

Tools for detecting traditional copy-and-paste plagiarism have become so good and so ubiquitous that it is clear to all but the most inept that you can’t copy and paste from the Web and expect to have a long academic career.

Meanwhile, the cost of contract cheating and custom essay writing has dropped so that more and more students can afford it, even if it means offshoring their academic work to other countries.

While contract cheating has been a problem since well before the Internet, it has recently become a problem on the rise and one that universities will soon have to address. I expect to read and hear more about this issue in 2015 than years prior and even services and techniques designed to address these issues.

3. Social Networking and ISPs Under Scrutiny

For years, Google has been under fire for not doing enough to prevent piracy and/or profiting from infringements. However, with Google’s recent efforts to demote pirate sites bearing fruit and backlash over the MPAA’s continued attacks against Google, means that the search giant may get a reprieve from the forward assault.

While I don’t expect the number of copyright notices to slow or for some copyright holders to continue looking for Google to be a first target for copyright enforcement, the public lashings will likely be on hiatus.

So who is next in the line of fire? In Silicon Valley, it’s almost certainly social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter. They long have been places where users swap links to infringing material and both even host or hosted official pages and accounts for piracy sites. In fact, Twitter still has the official Twitter for The Pirate Bay and the Facebook page was only shuttered after the site was closed.

However, also interesting is the recent lawsuit against Cox, which has rightsholders asking if the ISP is doing enough to stop piracy on its network. It may just be the first of many such lawsuits.

So while Google may not be in the crosshairs for a bit, expect ISPs and social media companies to fill the slot.

4. Fragmentation of Piracy

The Pirate Bay was shuttered in a raid late in 2014. Though the site is now counting down to what many believe to be a relaunch in February, it won’t return to the same environment it left in.

First, there have been hundreds of clones of the site launched and countless other sites rising up to fill the gap. The result is that piracy rates may not have dropped significantly, but piracy has become much more fragmented. That is a trend that will likely continue in 2015.

We saw something similar in 2012 after the closure of Megaupload. Though Kim Dotcom launched the site’s successor, Mega, a year later, it failed to gain anywhere near the popular of Megaupload because most had moved on and Mega was, in many ways, a very different product.

So while The Pirate Bay may have better luck than Mega in returning (if that is what the countdown is for), piracy will likely remain more fragmented for most, if not all, of 2015.

5. The Streaming Wars

Finally, 2015 is set up to be a very interesting year for streaming.

On the music side, we’ll likely see continued battles over whether or not services like Spotify are viable. Taylor Swift may be the biggest celebrity to raise these questions, but she’s far from the only one asking them.

On the television side, we already have more and more networks looking to capitalize on streaming with HBO launching a standalone streaming app for HBO Go, CBS doing the same and today’s announcement that Dish is launching its own online mini-cable network.

I would be stunned if these were the last such announcements we saw in 2015.

The dichotomy is interesting. Music streaming is established enough that many are doubting if it can work while TV streaming is still new and is an area ripe for a gold rush.

Either way, who’s streaming and who’s not will likely be a hot conversation topic for much of 2015.

Bottom Line

Without a doubt, many of the themes of 2014 will carry over into 2015. However, we also seem poised to have some serious issues come to a head this year. Real conversations about what is protected by copyright and what business models creators can succeed with are taking place right now.

If you’re just now getting interested in copyright and plagiarism news, you definitely picked an interesting time. 2015 will be a banner year for content integrity and I full expect to see sparks fly in all of the areas I watch.

Hopefully though, when this year is done, creators will be better off than they were at the start. Because, right now, things are pretty rough for most creators. But the opportunities are there to improve things and the right discussions are happening.

So here’s hoping for a great 2015! May it bring us closer to an Internet that we an all enjoy and thrive in.

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