After years of false starts, Congressional lobbying, and aborted legislation, media associations have decided the best way to curb online piracy was to avoid haggling with the government altogether.
Big Media — by which we mean the Recording Industry and Motion Picture Associations of America — has instead teamed up with Internet service providers. The plan is simple: if your ISP catches you downloading or streaming pirated content, they’ll send you an email. Then another. And another. And another. But if you continue? You’ll find your Internet connection getting much, much slower.
Or in some cases, stopping altogether.
The move is a marked change of strategy in the fight against online piracy. Prior attempts had centered around legislation like the Protect IP Act and COICA, broad and unwieldy laws whose good intentions threatened to scuffle innovation and curtail free speech.
The new “Copyright Alert System” is undoubtedly more sensible than the above-mentioned laws or prior attempts by the RIAA to sue individual users. Those lawsuits were disastrous from a public relations perspective and were abandoned wholesale in 2008.
Internet rights groups are unsurprisingly skeptical.
“[ISP]’s first loyalty should be to their subscribers. Not Hollywood,” said Corynne McSherry, an attorney for Electronic Frontier Foundation. “At the end of the day, this is unlikely to accomplish much. All it will do is intimidate a lot of lawful users.”
McSherry cited several problems she sees with the approach. For one, she worries that there is no judicial review for the penalties. For another, she worries that the agreement is the first domino in a chain of further, harsher penalties.
For now, it’s worth noting that service providers have pledged to keep users’ personal information private, even when dealing with a habitual infringer.
So what was the inspiration for the agreement? Strangely enough, it was a 2008 deal brokered by New York governor Andrew Cuomo to curb child pornography. Cuomo convinced providers to block access to sources of the illegal material and was also involved in this new deal.
“There are overlaps between the child porn problem and piracy,” said RIAA president Cary Sherman.
Cary is referring to similarities in how the files are shared. Pirated content, as with illegal pornography, is often traded on peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent.
Instead of litigating against ISPs for profiting over the bandwidth involved in illegally-shared music and movies, Big Media decided to work with them. So why this approach? Why now? Political pressure certainly helped, but, increasingly, ISPs are profiting from legally streamed content. Mergers like the one NBC and Comcast completed earlier this year have helped align media and ISP interests as well. After all, those companies now share the same bottom line.
It would be naive to think that the Copyright Alert System is going to end piracy online. It’s too early to know if this agreement will be effective and there are plenty out there who think it will do nothing at all. But it’s better than the laws we’ve seen stall in Congress and it’s better than the RIAA’s ill-fated attempts to sue individual users for exorbitant sums.
And for Big Media, it’s certainly better than nothing.
- Should you fear new ISP copyright enforcers? (news.cnet.com)
- ISPs to Disrupt Internet Access of Copyright Scofflaws (wired.com)
- U.S. ISPs sign up for “six strike” policy on piracy (geek.com)
- Is the Protect IP Act the Wrong Way to Fight Piracy? (legallyeasy.rocketlawyer.com)