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October 15, 2012

Unhappy Thanksgiving for File Sharers - November 28th Starts CCI's 'Six Strikes Anti-Piracy Program'

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

If you like to download copyrighted material without authorization and live in the United States, you might get some unwelcome e-mail starting right after Thanksgiving on November 28th. That is the date the long-delayed program “Six Strikes,” the brainchild of the Center for Copyright Infringement (CCI (News - Alert)) —a partnership between the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America and major Internet service providers (ISPs) — is now scheduled for launch.

For the uninitiated, the Six Strikes program is the latest attempt by the entertainment industry to stop the (pardon the expression) torrent of file sharing many people engage in of “pirated” materials, i.e., using intellectual property without permission or compensation to the content creators. 

It had been thought that the industry was really going to drop the hammer on those who like to share and don’t like to compensate. The thought was that after numerous violations and alerts the program would allow ISP members AT&T, Comcast (News - Alert), Cablevision, Time Warner and Verizon to cut off the access to the Internet of flagrant offenders. It turns out such will not be the case.

Image via Shutterstock

As the explanation on the CCI website reads.

Through a series of alerts, users will be notified that their Internet account is alleged to have been used for illegal file sharing, given the opportunity to correct their behavior, offered assistance in protecting their computers and securing their home networks - and given information about legal sources of content. The alerts will also inform consumers of the potential dangers of illegal file sharing, including their increased risk of exposure to computer viruses, spyware and other malware, and identity theft.

These alerts will be similar to current credit card fraud alerts. Today, when fraud is detected on a consumer’s credit card account, the credit card company notifies the consumer by an email, a text message or a phone call. Like credit card fraud alerts, Copyright Alerts are intended to be educational for consumers.

CCI also says that after six warnings, the provider may mete out penalties. It does not explain what these might be although speculation is that it could include slowing down, or throttling, customers' Internet connections. What is clear is that offending users will not be kicked offline permanently.

Why CCI and friends stopped from being more punitive is a mystery. While the casual file sharer might be intimidated into stopping by getting a series of alerts, hard core violators are hardly likely to cease and desist until one of them either gets hit with a large fine, goes to jail or both.

This is after all serious business, or rather lack thereof. As the CCI home page points out content theft costs America:

·         More than 373,00 jobs

·         Some $16 billion in lost wages

·         $2.6 billion in lost taxes

The content owners and their allies lost big when the SOPA and PIPA legislation they were pushing got shelved. They also have been unsuccessful over the years in going after individuals. The speculation is that Six Strikes is the first shot across the bow of offenders, and that if it does not yield a significant decrease in illegal file sharing, tougher measures are likely to follow. 

The real challenge here is that ISPs are obviously hesitant of being in the position of cutting off service. Because they are customer facing, i.e., have the power to deny access, it is their throat that customers are going to want to choke, yet they are not the ones whose financial ox is being gored. 

This issue has been around a long time going back even further than Sean Parker and Napster, and it is only getting worse as the population of devices capable of playing pirated content explodes. It has defied threats and the occasional court actions against sharing services and certainly has not dissuaded people of getting something for free. It would be nice to think CCI is going to be successful with their new program, but it seems doubtful.

 My suspicion is a lot of people are going to do what they do with much of the things that arrive in their inboxes, hit DELETE! I do suspect that once the dust has cleared in the U.S. elections that the next session of Congress is likely to see this reemerge as a hot topic. The cynic in me thinks that this is a sure thing because it stirs up intense emotions of very large financial interests on both sides, and that is a gift that politicians see as the gift that keeps on giving. 

In fact, it is not a Thanksgiving turkey but a goose that continues to lay golden eggs, but I hope I am wrong. This is a mess that cries out for a solution – and sooner rather than later.

Edited by Allison Boccamazzo
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