Six strikes, and you're out! In a nutshell, those are the news rules behind a new effort to crack down on Internet piracy.
On Monday, the Copyright Alert System--a joint effort between the nonprofit Center for Copyright Information [CCI] and Internet service providers to punish Internet pirates--took effect. At first glance, the new system sounds like an idea entrepreneurs and intellectual property holders can get behind.
Basically, it works like this: The Center of Copyright Information's partners--companies that own and develop music, movies, and other copyrighted material--join peer-to-peer networks (like, say, Dropbox) to find copyrighted material they own. Then they identify the publicly available IP address of any computers making the files available. These IP addresses are associated with specific service providers, so the owners of the copyrighted content alert the ISPs to any observed infringement, and service providers in turn alert users.
Users receive two or three--depending on the service provider--gentle warnings geared toward educating them on copyright policy and instructing them to avoid violations the future. However, if the piracy continues a user will then be subjected to temporary--but frustrating--punishments. AT&T has stated that users will be blocked from accessing popular websites, while Verizon will kick Internet speeds back to the days of dial-up.
In other words, the pirates will be given a friendly, parental reminder to respect others' intellectual property. Not such a bad idea, right?
Here's where it gets thorny. The service providers' approach has digital rights advocates feeling skeptical, voicing worries about privacy infringement and a lack of due process. Businesses may have reason to be wary, as well.
As Matt Peckham of TIME points out, small businesses that provide Wi-Fi access to customers could face accusations of copyright infringement on behalf of their file-sharing patrons.
Similarly, larger businesses with their own company networks may get blamed for illegal file-sharing done by employees using company IP addresses. Finally, as tech site GigaOM points out, the new Copyright Alert System does not account for the fact that not every user downloading or sharing material is breaking the law; they could be using the content under legal fair-use principles.
"There's a transparency issue here," Peckham writes. "If [the Center of Copyright Information] really wants this to work as claimed--to educate users--then it needs to work with ISPs to lay out the parameters beforehand, addressing scenarios like the one I've described."
These tattle-tale measures aren't the way to solve the piracy problem, say GigaOM writers Mathew Ingram and Jeff Roberts. Instead of relying on rules like these to enforce fairness, content companies should work toward creating a "market and digital ecosystem that fosters the creation, sale, and distribution of content in a way that works with the Web instead of against it."
Um, Hollywood, are you listening?