US ISPs and operators have come to a 'voluntary' agreement whereby they will self-police their networks to detect when subscribers are, seemingly and allegedly, illegally downloading copyrighted content. Martyn Warwick reports.
The new system goes under the anodyne nomenclature of the "Copyright Alerts System" and under its self-determined provisions, ISPs will send out to individual subscribers a series of "up to" six emailed or pop-up 'alerts' notifying users that a particular Internet access account 'seems to have been' used to download pirated copyright material.
There's a lot of 'ifs and but's' and vagueness there and one can envisage multiple appeals being mounted against one-sided and unproven accusations of piracy.
Of course, a policing system is no use whatsoever without the power to impose sanction and punishment and so the Copyrights Alerts System abrogates to itself the right to impose 'mitigation measures' on allegedly recalcitrant punters by 'slowing a subscriber's bandwidth', routing a customer's web browsing permanently to a static warning page or suspending Internet access altogether.
This will be a legal minefield as subscribers will have the right to demand an independent review of their Internet usage to determine if the online behaviour that an ISPs alleges is illegal is, in fact, against the law. They will also be able to demand evidence that the account in question is actually theirs and has not been identified as such in error.
You can imagine the court cases, delays and expense this bizarre system will engender.
Prime members of the vigilante band are ISPs and operators such as AT&T, Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon who colluded with Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General of New York in devising the plan.
And, as one might expect, this coalition of the willing also draws membership from representatives of movie studios and record labels - people who seem congenitally incapable of understanding that the distribution and business model that lined their industry's pockets for decades is broken and irrelevant. Nonetheless the continue to defend the indefensible and are trying to cling to the old certainties in a changed world. Until they accept that it is they who must change with the times and must devise a new business model we can expect ludicrous, top-heavy unwieldy and probably unenforceable initiatives like the Copyright Alerts System to continue to emerge - and to fail.
Given that individuals accused of malfeasance will will want their day in court and for irrefutable evidence to be brought forward showing that copyright infringement and piracy has actually taken place and been perpetrated by named and identifiable broadband account holders, it surely won't be long before the whole system gets bogged-down in class-action law suits.
Interestingly, the Obama administration is being broadly supportive of the initiative but adds the caveat that it expects the body to "consult with advocacy, privacy, freedom and civil rights groups" and ensure that "its practices are fully consistent with the democratic values that have helped the Internet to flourish."
The ISPs say that although a subscriber's Internet access may be suspended indefinitely, it will not actually 'terminate' individual accounts. How's that for logic chopping? They also say they the will refuse to provide the names and Internet addresses of alleged copyright infringers to rights holders. And if you believe that ... well, just wait until the studios and lobbyists for other vested interests start to lean on them.
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