NBC chief urges all-hands assault on piracy

Jeff Zucker calls for pulling in all levels of government, ISPs, consumer electronics makers, credit card companies, user-generated content sites...and the list goes on.

WASHINGTON--Copyright holders are "losing the battle" against piracy, at the expense of economic security and public health, and will never prevail unless a wide swath of governments and industries gets proactive, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker said Wednesday.

The media conglomerate's chief shared a lengthy attack plan in a speech at an antipiracy summit here hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

NBC CEO
Jeff Zucker NBC Universal

He wants alleged intellectual property violations to take center stage at all levels of government, from the White House to U.S. embassies around the world. He wants Congress to create dedicated IP enforcement departments and to offer federal grants for state and local governments to escalate their own policing efforts.

He wants advertisers and credit card companies to stop providing "financial support" to Web sites that are "overwhelmingly devoted" to making pirated content available.

And he wants Internet service providers, university network operators, user-generated content sites, search engines, auction Web sites and even consumer electronics and home networking device manufacturers to install filtering technologies designed to detect and block unauthorized copyright content. Critics argue that technique is prone to being either over- or underinclusive--or downright ineffective--but Zucker said he's convinced it's an approach worth pursuing.

Just as cable companies have helped to combat theft of their signals through encryption, "technology has been and continues to be an incredibly powerful tool to combat theft, whether we are talking about hard goods or digital goods," Zucker said. Such tools will never be perfect, he conceded, "but committed development of technology has the potential to reduce dramatically the traffic in counterfeit and pirated products."

In an attempt to illustrate the impact of piracy on the U.S. economy, Zucker touted the "staggering" numbers in a new study released Wednesday by an economist named Stephen Siwek, which found the U.S. economy loses $58 billion and U.S. workers are deprived of nearly 375,000 jobs annually because of global and domestic-based copyright infringement.

A copy of that study was not immediately available, so it was unclear how those numbers were derived. The group that released the study, called the Institute for Policy Innovation, has a history of sponsoring pro-Hollywood events.

But despite concerns about the Internet as a piracy venue, Zucker said his company has no intention of shying away from the medium. In fact, the General Electric subset intends to continue beefing up investments its digital presence by "ripping apart old business models and pioneering radically new ways of reaching audiences."

Take the network's hit comedy sitcom 30 Rock, for example. If viewers miss its broadcast TV airing, they have a multitude of options for watching it later, including in free, streaming form at NBC.com; in free, downloadable form from NBC.com (albeit with a 7-day lifespan); through some cable and satellite on-demand services; and, in a few weeks, through Hulu.com , the new joint digital video venture between NBC and News Corp. (There wasn't a peep about the fall lineup's newfound lack of availability through Apple's iTunes store, though.)

"On screens small, medium or large," he said, "we are there wherever or however consumer wants to consume our content."

 

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