If the MPAA was less diplomatic, it might have headlined its response to the Obama administration’s latest anti-piracy initiative, “Are You Kidding Me?” Even without the direct language, the studio lobby made it clear that it believes U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel served up thin gruel yesterday when she teamed with tech companies to promote voluntary best practices to reduce the flow of ad dollars to sites that traffic in pirated content. MPAA chief Chris Dodd called it “an incremental step forward that addresses only a narrow subset of the problem” and places “disproportionate amount of the burden on rights holders”. The response was a bit of a surprise: Just last month the MPAA praised the administration when it released its Joint Strategic Plan On Intellectual Property Enforcement, which called for voluntary initiatives to fight piracy. That was far less than Hollywood wanted last year when it lobbied Congress to pass tough anti-piracy legislation.

But yesterday’s announcement — supported by companies including AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and the Interactive Advertising Bureau — was a bridge too far for the MPAA. For example, the guidelines say that copyright owners are responsible for calling attention to ad-supported sites that sell pirated movies, TV shows or other content. Ad sellers “do not control the content on third-party websites” and can’t “engage in extensive or definitive fact finding to determine a particular party’s intellectual property rights”. Once a complaint is registered, ad sellers “may” ask the alleged offender to “no longer sell counterfeit goods or engage in copyright piracy”. They also can stop selling ads until the site verifies that it’s clean.

Espinel said the voluntary best practices provided “a good example of how the public and private sector can work to combat piracy and counterfeiting while protecting and, in fact, further encourage the innovation made possible by an open Internet”. But Dodd urged the administration and its friends in the tech community to keep working to develop “a comprehensive and effective response” to the problem.