US ISPs roll out six-strike program to curb illegal file sharing

Starting this week, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will start implementing an industry wide program in an attempt to curb illegal file sharing. Copyright maximalists MPAA and RIAA have created the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) with the support of five major ISPs to educate residential users on copyright violations and penalize repeat offenders.

The program will work on a six-strike system focusing only on monitoring P2P networks. None of the ISPs have officially outlined the penalties for each strike though they will follow general guidelines. The first several strikes will generally result in warning and education letters explaining why sharing copyrighted material is not advisable. Additional strikes may result in temporary suspension of popular websites, the reduction of connection speeds to near unusable levels, and temporary suspension of service. None of the ISPs stated they plan to permanently cut off a user’s internet connection, although the agreement leaves that option available. In addition the ISPs will provide the offender’s IP address to the MPAA and RIAA; MPAA and RIAA stated that they do not plan to bring lawsuit against offending users at this time.

Hopefully, this program will achieve the goal of educating users and reducing illegal file sharing. Unfortunately, history shows that in a technological arms race against piracy, new controls are quickly circumvented to the harm of the average user.

The problem with programs like “six-strike” is that the users are assumed guilty and penalized until proven innocent through an appeals process that takes time and money. For example, an innocent user whose otherwise legal open wireless access point has been hacked or mis-identified could be caught up in these monitoring nets. To appeal the rulings the user who registered the internet connection must file a $35 fee and prove they did not commit the violation.

Collateral damage from this program could include the closing of open wireless access points from businesses such as Starbucks and Internet hotspots and could harm social programs such as the Open Wireless Movement. CCI states that “six-strikes” is not intended to target wireless hotspots offered by businesses, but it is yet to be seen if these hotspots will be affected.

The plan is similar to what some call the “economically wasteful” French three-strike law Hadopi. Since 2009, the French government has spent over $14 million per year to enforce the law, brought 14 people to court, and only managed to get one conviction for a total fine of roughly $200. Not only has the law been ineffective, but also reports state that many people have stopped using P2P for file sharing and have moved to other technologies such as storage lockers where their activities are not easily monitored by third parties.

Illegally downloading and uploading copyrighted material without the owners’ approval is illegal; people should follow the law and artists should get properly compensated for their work. (It is also against the Northeastern Acceptable Use Policy that you agree to when connecting to the NU network.)

However, programs like “six-strikes” have historically not resulted in the intended goal of reducing piracy and increasing sales. The minority of Internet users who pirate media will likely develop new technologies and methods to circumvent the monitoring nets. Implementation of blanket punitive measures where the accused are presumed guilty could be seen as hurting the majority and doing little to stop piracy.

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