People who illegally upload and share online digital media like music, movies and TV shows may very soon start receiving warning signals from their service providers for copyright infringement. Those who simply turn a deaf ear to the warning notices may even risk penalties with the simplest being a 48 hour internet shutdown though other penalties could be imposed if the culprit fails to heed to the constant notices. The alert system was created by the Center for Copyright Information which is still working out the methods that companies will be allowed to use in order to catch pirates.
This though is not the first time that the stakeholders in the music, movie and TV industries have tried to fight copyright infringement. The first attempt was through law suits that were common a decade or so ago but this did very little to stop people from illegally swapping digital files online. However, the major players in these industries are now taking a different approach to try and reduce rate at which files are illegally exchanged by internet users. The new system aims at educating internet pirates about the dangers and encouraging them to stop the practice.
This copyright alert system is currently being implemented by five of the major internet service providers in the US namely Time Warner cable, Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and Cablevision. These internet service providers are working closely with the two main associations in the Movie and music industry that is The Recording Industry Association of America (the body that brings together all recording studios and artists) and the Motion Picture Association of America which brings together all movie makers and directors in America. Both associations have heaped the blame on online piracy for the drop in profits and sales during the past decade and hope this new system will help to reduce the losses that they have incurred because of online piracy.
Under this program, there will be constant monitoring of “peer to peer” software services to establish any signs of copyrighted materials being distributed across the internet without the approval of the copyrighted “owners”. Every time there is a sign of this happening, the movie and industry players will raise a complaint to the service provider concerned and it will the duty of the internet service provider to notify their client that an illegal sharing of copyrighted files has been detected via their IP address.
As of now, the first couple of notices are likely to be in form of email warnings though the method of warning may vary and differ from one service provider to another. Subsequently, the methods of sending alerts may demand acknowledgement of receipt of copyrighted material. If the person ignores the alerts and nothing is done on the user’s side, the consequence may be speed throttling for a period of up to 48 hours. Other similar mitigation measures may also be undertaken to ensure that the person heeds to the notices/ alerts and stops the illegal sharing and transfer of files.
However, after about five or six penalties, the person is unlikely to face any more action under this program and he/ she is likely to just b ignored. However, it is still unclear whether any more actions may be followed up against such persons for example it is not yet known whether such repeat offenders could be slapped with expensive law suits or face criminal prosecution in the courts of law. For now though, the program is only designed to send out warning messages to offenders with the hope that they will heed to the warning notices and stop the illegal sharing of files.
This program is likely to target a sizeable number of internet users as these five service providers alone provide internet services to the bulk of the US population/ internet users. For example AT&T and Verizon when combined provide internet services to close to 23 million Americans. When you bring in the totals from the other three internet service providers, the number translates to tens of millions of Americans, a very high percentage of all internet users in the US.
The recording industry looks at this method as a better alternative to the expensive and time consuming lawsuits. As a matter of fact, The Recording Industry Association of America dropped the system of using lawsuits way back in December 2008 because it was very unpopular, time consuming and involved a lot of funds as well and has warmly welcomed this new system of sending alerts to proven offenders.
According to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) estimates that close to 29 million people have or downloaded movies or TV shows illegally, most of who use a popular protocol called Bit Torrent. This has cost the industry millions of dollars in cash and believes that this new method will make people aware that what they are doing is illegal and compel them to buy and download files from legally authorized sites. According to Michael O’Leary from the MPAA, “the system will alert families about the illegal activities originating from their computers and give them tips on how to prevent recurrence of such activities”.
However, one question that skeptics are asking is whether the system will be capable of detecting false use of other people’s profiles to illegally share files whereby some people may be falsely accused of sharing files when in true essence it was not them. For example if a person forgets to encrypt their wireless connections which could open the door for neighbors and hackers to swap illegal files, the person may end up being wrongly accused.
According to the people who developed this program, a person who feels he/she is wrongly accused will have multiple chances to delete the files without facing any consequences. If the problem persists, the person can pay $35 to make an appeal (this $35 though is intended to prevent people from making constant appeals).
Jill Lesser, the Director of the Center asserts that “the program’s main goal is to educate internet users about their illegal activities and not to punish internet users and that no one’s internet access will be cut off”. However, we still wait to see whether the program will have its desired effects and whether the program will help to reduce online piracy.