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Summary:

A new system of warnings for users who download copyrighted content is being rolled out by some of the biggest internet service providers in the United States. Is it something you should be concerned about? That depends.

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A new system designed to combat copyright infringement was launched in the U.S. on Monday, a joint venture between content companies and internet service providers known as the Copyright Alert System. The name sounds harmless enough, and its supporters argue that it is an appropriate balance between copyright and an open internet — but critics argue that the so-called “six strikes” process is the thin edge of an increasingly broad wedge that copyright holders are trying to drive between consumers and digital content.

The new rules, which have been in the works for over a year and have been repeatedly delayed, are being administered by the Center For Copyright Information — a non-profit entity made up of theoretically independent representatives from agencies like the Internet Education Foundation and the Future of Privacy Forum, and includes Jerry Berman, a former director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as well as Gigi Sohn of Public Knowledge. They have partnered with five of the largest ISPs, including Verizon and Comcast.

Part of what makes this new strategy difficult to understand is that each service provider’s method for implementing the rules is different. Verizon says that after several warnings via email and popup message, users who are downloading or sharing copyrighted content will be given several options, including a temporary reduction in their internet speed. AT&T’s policy apparently says that after several warnings a user’s ability to access popular websites will be blocked until they complete a course in understanding piracy and copyright infringement.

So should you be afraid of these new rules? That depends. Are you are only worried about how they might affect you directly, or are you concerned about the ways in which private corporations are seeking to snoop on and limit your behavior? Let’s break these two viewpoints down:

Why you shouldn’t be worried:

It doesn’t affect all internet service providers: Although providers like Comcast and Verizon are huge, they don’t cover all internet users in the United States, so it’s possible that you might not even be affected by the new restrictions even if you do download a lot of copyrighted content.

You get six strikes, which is probably more than you need: Copyright owners and the Center for Copyright Information say that the intent of these new rules is to go after the most egregious downloaders and sharers of content, not the person who occasionally downloads a new song or a movie. So if you don’t do a lot of peer-to-peer file-sharing, you probably won’t be affected.

You won’t get cut off, just lectured and irritated: Even if you do get flagged for something, the worst that most of the ISPs say they will do is limit your download speeds, show you popup warnings or send annoying emails. And some have said even if you ignore them, nothing will happen (although they could always change their minds about that later).

There are lots of ways around these restrictions: One of the criticisms of such rules isn’t that they are too invasive, but that they don’t work against the really hard-core file-sharers that are allegedly the target of this strategy — since virtual private networks, proxy addresses, cloaking software and other tools can make it almost impossible to detect infringing downloads.

Why you should be worried:

Your ISP is going to be doing some heavy snooping: One of the broader risks that groups like the EFF point to in their criticism of these new restrictions is that they rely on ISPs snooping on their users to an almost unprecedented degree — and this raises the same issues about privacy that debates around technology like “deep packet inspection” have. The potential downside is fairly significant.

The new rules don’t take into account fair use: Much of the material produced by the Center for Copyright Information makes it sound as though anyone downloading or sharing any copyrighted content is breaking the law — but that’s not the case at all. There are many instances in which the principle of fair use applies, and these rules don’t take that into account.

Copyright holders are unlikely to stop here: One fear about the six-strikes process is that it is just the latest move in an ongoing attempt by copyright holders and content companies to exert more and more control over what users can do, and that allowing it to proceed only encourages them to pursue even harsher measures such as SOPA and PIPA.

This puts commercial entities in place of laws: One of the biggest criticisms from free speech and open-web advocates is that the six-strikes rules essentially allow private corporations — movie studios, music labels and large telecom providers — to set up a quasi-legal process for pursuing their copyright claims, when the legal system is the appropriate place for those arguments.

The bottom line: There’s reason for concern

In the end, while this move may not affect you directly — or may only be a minor irritation in your daily life — the fact remains that it marks another attempt by content owners to exert their influence in areas that should belong to the courts and should in principle be protected by things like the First Amendment and the principle of fair use, neither of which are even mentioned by the promoters of this process.

Not only that, but as my colleague Jeff Roberts notes, focusing on these kinds of efforts feels a lot like what the music industry did while it was trying hard not to innovate as the web grew bigger and bigger. The risk for copyright owners is that they rely too much on these kinds of measures, instead of working to create a market and a digital ecosystem that fosters the creation, sale and distribution of content in a way that works with the web instead of against it.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Shutterstock / Cienpies and Flickr user Pew Center

  1. 1. Setup VPN
    2. Connect to VPN
    3. ????
    4. Profit

    1. Underpants Gnomes

    2. The ISPs are offering to throttle service after being caught. Why volunteer to do it?

  2. First amendment. Fair use. Right, right, we’re all concerned with how anonymous pieces of dung on Blogspot and YouTube and other places Google owns, can throw everyone’s copyrighted material around with impunity. But the copyright owner has to sign full name address and phone number to any DMCA to have it “chillingly” posted for hacktivists and other childish spuds to find. And, heh heh ha ha, the next day, anonymous blogger puts the stuff right back up again. Because “music should be free” and ignorant selfish nitwits know what “fair use” really means. Not.

    1. DMCA’s are already abused enough (mainly by competitors by the way) so the answer couldn’t be to allow the DMCA to be anonymous. I can understand your concerns, but that would be even worse.

      Indeed the system is flawed (highly flawed depending on your point of view), but what needs to happen is creating alternative marketing and business schemes. Regulating a 21 century economy based on archaic business models from the 17th century (possibly as far as the 15th century) is counter productive.

      I agree that if any person owning I.P. wished to capitalize on their work, they have that right, but it is completely irrational for any owner of an I.P. to directly stifle the creative works of others in order to monopolize innovation.

      Biological patents are a perfect example of when controlling I.P. goes completely awry.

      In regards to music, “pay as you play”, “how much would you pay” etc. There are new and innovative business models available for artists to use. It is up to artists and the industry to actually innovate, instead of constantly expecting everyone else to conform to their business model.

    2. DMCA’s are already abused enough (mainly by competitors by the way) so the answer couldn’t be to allow the DMCA to be anonymous. I can understand your concerns, but that would be even worse.

      Indeed the system is flawed (highly flawed depending on your point of view), but what needs to happen is creating alternative marketing and business schemes. Regulating a 21 century economy based on archaic business models from the 17th century (possibly as far as the 15th century) is counter productive.

      I agree that if any person owning I.P. wished to capitalize on their work, they have that right, but it is completely irrational for any owner of an I.P. to directly stifle the creative works of others in order to monopolize innovation.

      Biological patents are a perfect example of when controlling I.P. goes completely awry.

      In regards to music (which seems to be what you’re referring to) “pay as you play”, “how much would you pay” are just a few new and innovative business models available for artists to use. It is up to artists and the industry to actually innovate, instead of constantly expecting everyone else to conform to their business model.

      1. Sorry for the double post.

  3. “… [users] will be blocked until they complete a course in understanding piracy and copyright infringement.”
    I understand piracy and copyright infringement quite well. This is why I do it. I don’t need a lecture about it. I simply don’t recognize the legitimacy of this law.
    There is no such thing as “intellectual property”. The whole concept is fraud and harmful for the economy and the progress of human civilization. Whoever attempts to enforce it is a criminal.

    1. Mortran, you said, there is no such thing as “intellectual property”.

      i must vehemently disagree with you there. My company (CandleFOREX) programs trading systems. Many of these trading systems are proprietary as they were designed by their owners (usually banks or trading firms etc), and without any doubt these are the intellectual property of the owner.

      The concept is not a fraud.

      The same thing applies to you, if you designed something, that is your intellectual property.

      Please do not post ignorant comments again.

  4. There are a couple of things here which I think are important because they’re not being addressed.

    The first is the sheer stupidity of the content providers: by artificially creating “digital scarcity” and making content hard to acquire to try and prop up archaic practices such as release windows, or converting the model from physical ownership (of a DVD, CD or a book) to revokable licences which often cost the same or more and remove things like first sale provisions (if I own Star Wars on DVD I can sell it to anyone, but if I don’t own it and just want to watch it once to see what the fuss is about there’s nowhere that I can legally stream and watch it as part of a Netflix or AIV service)

    The second is the sledgehammer to crack a nut: I run a TOR node for giggles at home (well, seriously to help folks access the web who suffer from restrictions) and every day I get notices from Comcast that I am apparently downloading stuff that I have no interest in (or ironically can watch on Netflix so wouldn’t need to download) so what happens about the false positives? On current experience I suspect I will hit my six strikes in about a day!

    I firmly believe that those working to create and promote content should be rewarded – it costs a lot of $ to make a movie or an album – but at the same time I don’t expect to be treated with the sort of disrespect that the big distributors have assumed for some reason is their right and because they have money for lobbying and big legal departments they can strong-arm their way around common sense

  5. “Your ISP is going to be doing some heavy snooping”

    You think the Google Generation is going to care about that?

    Chrome practically acts as a keylogger anymore. No one seems to care how invasive the snooping is, if you are concerned about it you just get the tinfoil hat nutter label and life goes on.

    1. Here’s the important difference:
      I don’t mind when google snoops. They use that data to provide me with a better experience and making their free products and services better for me. Yes, they’re making money, but I’m getting something out of it and can easily opt out.
      When my ISP snoops, they aren’t in it for my benefit at all. They are doing it to screw me over. In my area, the only options are companies that opted in for this 6 strike nonsense. They are gathering it to have control over me and to help the RIAA and whatnot have things to screw me over with, charging, in one case, $600,000 for 4 movies (when the downloader, a child, even owned 3 of the 4). That’s excessive and unfair. There is no reason courts should allow damages to cost that many times the amount of the actual damage.

      1. You go on believing that. Google is only doing it so they can get richer. You’re the product that they’re selling. Not only are they reading your email, but they’re selling they’re knowledge about you for a profit!

  6. Hackers will come out with even more sophisticated solutions to work around this. Then they will probably release it as freeware. So, I don’t really think this will do more than annoy people and make them more paranoid. That sells more DVDs. Doesn’t it?

  7. Despotism works by creating a small pipeline through which measured amounts of a vital resource are delivered. In the USA, where business is despotic, we have the worst internet service in the developed world. But instead of building us a bigger pipeline, we are getting squeezed.

    Just like despotism.

    1. I don’t think you even live in the USA.

      Business certainly is not despotic here. Are you calling my Business (CandleFOREX) despotic ?

      1. keep your candle out of this topic moreover your candleforex sucks cant you find a better name like suckforex….haaaa lol

  8. My question is why does it seem that every action that is meant to encourage the protection of an industry is always meant to shut something down, rather than to adapt with it?

  9. If it’s unconstitutional and illegal to tap my phone and listen in on my conversations without a warrant, why is it okay to tap my Internet connection and inspect every piece of data that moves back and forth? Do corporations have the right to prevent me from performing “Happy Birthday” over the phone to someone? Because that’s a violation of their rules, so maybe they should tap every phone conversation and listen for people playing music or singing songs they shouldn’t be transmitting over phone lines.

    1. The wiretapping rules were set in place back when the US Government stood for the people. That’s not the case now. Somewhere, deep in the EULA you agreed to when you got your G-mail account, you gave Google authority to read those e-mails. Most of us never read those things and wouldn’t decline the free service anyway. Congress will never pass laws that prohibit such provisions. If they raise objections, corporate America just funds a primary challenger in their district to get a more cooperative lawmaker in the seat.

      There are a couple of ways to fix the problem, IMHO. First, revise Congressional salaries downward to match the median income of all US workers. If it’s good enough for half the country, it should be good enough for Congress. And the threat of losing an average paying job should not be such a strong incentive to do something other than the right thing. Second, fix gerrymandering. Make every Congressional districts lines be drawn to a regular polyhedron (hexagon?) that evenly divides the population of a state onto the number of seats authorized by the population of the state. Or use groupings of adjacent SMSAs. You’d still have states with too many Representatives (the population of Alaska wouldn’t make a good county in most states), but it would result in a much more representative House of Representatives and reduce the vulnerability of good legislators to challenges from outlandish toadies with funding from moneyed interests from outside the district.

      Until the politics get fixed, the results won’t favor the people.

    2. Your ISP is not the Federal Government.

    3. you are so very wrong! just this week the SCOTUS ruled warrantless wiretapping by our government legal and beyond any legal challenge. look it up.

    4. great lol…luv it

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