An advocacy group has urged Philippine legislators to add more teeth to the government’s fight against piracy of intellectual property by coming up with new law enabling site blocking, among others.
The CitizenWatch Philippines also called on the Senate to immediately ratify the Philippines’ participation in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), saying it would be advantageous for the country.
“Ultimately, piracy is a bane to society in general, and to consumers in particular,” lawyer Tim Abejo, co-convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines, said in a statement.
“Our group is one with many industry supporters already supporting site blocking and collaborating to put in place site-blocking mechanisms. But we need an enabling law so that these initiatives could be done in a more efficient and effective manner.”
The Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL), National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), and various internet service providers have signed a memorandum of understanding calling for the setting up of mechanisms to rapidly block pirated sites.
IPOPHL has also recently partnered with the Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA) and Motion Picture Association for the same purpose.
Currently, sites can be blocked within two hours from the release of an order from the NTC.
“But more could be done,” Abejo said. “Site blocking has to achieve critical mass to have observable, substantial impact.”
He said studies have shown that site blocking only decreases piracy if a substantial number of sites are blocked. “If just a few sites are blocked, then the users would only go to other unblocked sites. We need robust policies to get our desired outcome,” he said.
Specifically, Abejo called for amendments of the Intellectual Property Code to give the IPOPHL greater administrative enforcement power and enable the NTC to block sites more swiftly.
“It would also allow for greater information sharing and development of effective site-blocking processes,” Abejo said.
A YouGov survey commissioned by the Coalition Against Piracy showed 49 percent of Filipino consumers admitting to accessing pirated content increased from 49 percent in September 2020 to 61 percent in 2022 with the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia having the highest content piracy rate.
“And it is not as if people did not know the negative consequences of piracy,” Abejo said.
“Despite the high percentage of those admitting to accessing illegal content, half of the respondents believe online piracy can cause people in the creative industry to lose their jobs.”
Around half of the respondents also say they know piracy results in profiting from content that is not theirs, increases the risk of malware infections on people’s devices, and that enable pirates to defraud society by evading taxes.
Media Partners Asia, a research and consulting group, said some $120 million is lost annually by the subscription-based online streaming industry.
“The economic damage is just one dimension of the problem. The easy access to illegal streaming websites exposes users to malicious software that can lead to other cybercrimes such as phishing, identity theft and even more dangerous child pornography sites that are targeting Filipino children. These are cyber threats that the government and all of society must fight,” Abejo said.
The push is not without precedent. Washington DC-based think tank Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) said website blocking is an effective method of curbing digital piracy “without breaking the internet.”
ITIF said a growing number of countries recognize that website blocking is a reasonable and effective tool to reduce the consumption of pirated material and to increase the consumption of legal content.
“Indeed, legislation-backed site-blocking has proven effective in many parts of the world,” Abejo said. “We have much to learn from other countries.”
Australia, which passed website blocking laws in 2015, saw a 53 percent reduction in the use of pirate sites targeted by a blocking order in the span of just three years, according to the Australian Screen Association.
In the UK, website blocking policies were found to have caused a decrease in overall piracy and a 7 to 12 percent increase in the use of legal subscription sites.
In Indonesia, AVIA and YouGov found a 55 percent reduction in consumers accessing piracy services – from 63 percent in 2019 to 28 percent in 2020. In Malaysia, the same study showed the reduction was even greater at 64 percent. Key to the decline in both countries was their respective governments’ pro-active site-blocking initiative.
Abejo also said that the Philippine Senate should make the ratification of the RCEP – a trade agreement among the 10 members of the ASEAN and Australia, China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand – a priority as soon as it reconvenes.
“No less than the Department of Trade and Industry has said that the Philippine intellectual property stands to gain from some of the provisions of the RCEP, specifically as it fosters competition and innovation,” Abejo said.
Among the advantages for IP are streamlined procedures for IP applications, a level playing field in IP protection and enforcement, and a standard protection of the interests of inventors, authors and performers, particularly on digital platforms.
President Duterte signed the RCEP in September last year, but the Senate went on election break without ratifying the agreement.
“We have to make institutional, collective efforts to protect intellectual property in the Philippines,” said Abejo. “We at CitizenWatch sure hope our lawmakers appreciate the urgency of that.”