The people who want control over the Internet are nothing if not persistent. They are quite capable of learning from their mistakes, too. So it should perhaps come as no surprise that they have licked their wounds and regathered their forces after the resounding defeat of SOPA. They’ve come up with a new scheme to protect their precious copyrights; a kinder, gentler version of SOPA that, while it enables spying, supposedly has education more in mind than punishment.
The new effort is based in the Center for Copyright Information. And it’s not a little affair either. This is an alliance between the MPAA (Motion Picture Picture Association of America, Inc.), the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and all their members plus the associations representing independent producers, and five of the biggest ISPs in the country: AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon. So not only does it include all the studios that make the movies and music, but some of the systems that move most of their creations around online. That should carry a lot of corporate clout.
Music and film producers have been chasing down and threatening illegal downloaders over open file-sharing networks for years. But the effort has been haphazard at best. This, however, establishes a systematic framework for dealing with complaints, one that is basically a “6-strikes-you’re-out” system.
The system will be known as CAS (Copyright Alert System) and is based on standardized, gradually escalating responses. As before, it depends on the owner of the copyright detecting an unauthorized download and reporting the IP address to the ISP which provides the connection over which it was accessed. The ISP then emails the accused offender a warning.
If this doesn’t work, another warning is sent, then some sort of active acknowledgement to the warnings will be required – such as clicking in a pop-up window. On the fifth strike, “mitigation measures” such as reduced speeds, required viewing of an educational video, or even having to call the ISP to explain why will be enforced. After the sixth strike, the offender is left to the mercies of the content provider, who have been known to sue downloaders in the past.
Service, however, will not be cut off at any point, unlike it would have been under SOPA. And users falsely accused (such as those whose unsecured Wi-Fi has been hacked), have the option of demanding a hearing for only $35, refundable upon clearing the charge.
If this somewhat tame approach seems somewhat lame, it is because the industry would prefer to deter people than punish them, since that tactic doesn’t seem to have worked very well or gained them much goodwill. The CCI boasts that “Its goal is also to educate them about digital copyright and the many opportunities available to experience content in a legal manner. CCI represents a sensible approach to the problem of copyright infringement and, importantly, one that respects the privacy and rights of our subscribers.”
The effort is an improvement over SOPA for other reasons than its lack of draconian punishment and coercion. It should be applauded for its voluntary nature, transparency, and providing a channel to rectify false accusations.
Of course, only time will tell if this system will work. Even if it doesn’t, however, it is significant to all Internet users, the innocent as well as illegal downloaders – including SWCP’s customers – for two reasons. First, CCI puts producers and the biggest ISPs in agreement, with common aims and strategy. Secondly and more importantly, it authorizes ISPs to monitor and regulate content for the first time.
The big question for users is not whether CAS will work. The real thing to worry about is whether or not it succeeds, will it end here, or be the first step towards total control over the Internet? Net neutrality, perhaps freedom itself, may depend on the answer.