Netflix's anti-piracy team aims to make stealing content uncool

​Netflix has set up a new Global Copyright Protection Group to stop people from stealing its original content. The group's ultimate aim is to reduce online piracy "to a socially unacceptable fringe activity."

Failure of other campaigns raises doubts about this one

Claire Foy plays Queen Elizabeth in the original Netflix series The Crown. 'You've got to police your own property,' says technology lawyer David Fewer. (Netflix)

​Netflix is getting tough on piracy.

The streaming service giant reveals its plan of attack in an online job posting seeking someone with legal and internet piracy experience to manage its newly created Global Copyright Protection Group.

Based in Los Angeles, the group's mission is to stop people from accessing online its original content without paying for it. In recent years, Netflix has had much success with its own series such as Stranger Things, House of Cards and The Crown.

According to the job posting, the manager's duties will include improving the company's attempts to get "rogue pirate sites" to remove unauthorized Netflix content.

Netflix is hiring someone to manage its global anti-piracy team, which aims to protect its original content. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

The new recruit will also "consider solutions to deal with new piracy models" such as fully loaded Android boxes that allow users to easily stream pirated shows and movies on their TVs.

But the posting explains that the group's ultimate goal is not to round up every pirate. Instead, it's to reduce online piracy to "a socially unacceptable fringe activity."

How the streaming service will make piracy uncool is yet to be revealed. The California-based company did not respond to a request for comment.

The manager's job duties will include analyzing piracy trends and working with a consumer insights team on "piracy messaging projects."

'You wouldn't steal a car'

It's not surprising Netflix is trying to protect its growing stockpile of original content, says technology lawyer David Fewer.

"If you've got intellectual property you want to protect, the way the law is set up, you've got to police your own property."

But the lawyer questions Netflix's plan to make piracy "socially unacceptable."

"I'm a little skeptical," says Fewer, who is the director of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic.

"Certainly any kind of global groups that have tried that have had a difficult time of it."

He points to the Motion Picture Association of America's now infamous anti-piracy video that debuted in the mid-2000s. It often popped up during the opening sequence of DVD movies.

The ad shows someone illegally downloading a movie and states that you wouldn't steal a car, a handbag, a TV, or an actual movie from the video store. Then it informs the viewer that "downloading pirated films is stealing."

A scene from the MPAA ad that shows someone stealing a car. (MPAA/YouTube/haxorcat)

Instead of convincing masses of people to stop illegal downloading, the ad became a source of ridicule. "It's almost a joke line now," says Fewer, referring to the phrase, "You wouldn't steal a car."

The line even found its way into the Urban Dictionary, an open-contribution online slang and phrase resource. It describes the ad as "an idiotic PSA comparing pirating a 1 GB movie file and stealing a full blown $50k+ 2 ton vehicle."

"Industry-led efforts to influence norms around unauthorized access to content have always come off heavy-handed," says Fewer. Therefore they tend not to serve their purpose, he adds.

"So I would be skeptical if Netflix would have any more success than anyone else."

A scene from the MPAA video which compares illegally downloading a movie to stealing a car. (MPAA/YouTube/haxorcat)

If social pressure fails, Netflix has other methods to curb piracy. The newly appointed manager will also oversee the company's "notice and takedown" efforts.

In the U.S., content owners can force websites to take down pirated copies of its content that people stream or download for free.

Netflix is also trying to make it harder to find pirated material online. 

The plan of attack: The global anti-piracy company, Vobile, on behalf of Netflix, reports to Google links to pirated content and asks the search giant to remove them from search results. That way, the unauthorized material is much harder to find.

It's just one of the creative weapons content creators of all sorts are using to stamp out piracy.

According to Google's Transparency Report, in just one month — from Feb. 27 to March 27 — Vobile made requests to remove more than 76,000 links to allegedly pirated content where "Netflix" is the copyright owner.

How about offering an alternative?

Making pirated material more difficult to find can be an effective plan of attack, says Fewer. But he adds that trying to eliminate unauthorized downloading and streaming is often a losing battle.

"The frustrating thing about online piracy and this whole debate is, anybody who wants to can take the steps to find content without having to pay for it."

He believes the best way to combat piracy is not through ads or takedown notices, but instead by offering an inexpensive, convenient way to watch TV.

"Make it good, make it more attractive than the alternative," says Fewer. "I think that does more than anything else to change norms around how you access content."

Even Netflix has subscribed to this idea, at one time claiming that its low-cost streaming service was helping curb illegal activity.

"There's been a notable reduction in piracy in countries where we operate such as the U.S. and Canada," company spokeswoman Marlee Tart told CBC News in 2015.

"Ultimately, people steal content because they can't get it otherwise," she said.

Since last year, Netflix has also been cracking down on people who hop virtual borders to watch shows and movies restricted to other countries.

Because of regional licencing agreements, Netflix customers in one country — say Canada — get access to less content than another country like the United States.

About the Author

Sophia Harris

Business reporter

Sophia Harris has worked as a CBC video journalist across the country, covering everything from the start of the annual lobster fishery in Yarmouth, N.S., to farming in Saskatchewan. She now has found a good home at the business unit in Toronto. Contact: sophia.harris@cbc.ca